One new and different item was laid out in the Evaluation of Corporate Compliance Program, supplementing the Ten Hallmarks of an Effective Compliance Program from the 2012 FCPA Guidance. This was the performance of a root cause analysis for any compliance violation which may led to a self-disclosure or enforcement action. Under Prong 1 Analysis and Remediation of Underlying Misconduct, the Evaluation stated:

Root Cause Analysis What is the company’s root cause analysis of the misconduct at issue? What systemic issues were identified? Who in the company was involved in making the analysis? 

Prior Indications Were there prior opportunities to detect the misconduct in question, such as audit reports identifying relevant control failures or allegations, complaints, or investigations involving similar issues? What is the company’s analysis of why such opportunities were missed? 

The new Department of Justice (DOJ) FCPA Corporate Enforcement Policy brought forward this requirement for a root cause analysis with the following language: “Demonstration of thorough analysis of causes of underlying conduct (i.e., a root cause analysis) and, where appropriate, remediation to address the root causes;”.

The site has defined root cause analysis as “The purpose of root cause analysis is to strike at the root of a problem by finding and resolving its root causes. Root cause analysis is a class of problem solving methods aimed at identifying the root causes of problems or events. … The practice of root cause analysis is predicated on the belief that problems are best solved by attempting to correct or eliminate root causes, as opposed to merely addressing the immediately obvious symptoms.”

Well known fraud investigator Jonathan Marks, has noted, has noted a root cause analysis “is a research based approach to identifying the bottom line reason of a problem or an issue; with the root cause not the proximate cause the root cause representing the source of the problem.” He contrasted this definition with that of a risk assessment which he said “is something performed on a proactive basis based on various facts. A root cause analysis analyzes a problem that (hopefully) was previously identified through a risk assessment.”

Marks also contrasted a root cause analysis with an investigation. He noted, “in an investigation we are try to either prove or disprove an allegation.” This means that in a compliance investigation you may be trying to prove or disprove certain transactions could form the basis of a corrupt payment or bribe by garnering evidence to either support or refute specific allegation or allegations. You do not assess blame and that is the point where a root cause should follow to determine how the compliance failure occurred or was allowed to occur.

There is no one formula for performing a root cause analysis. An approach articulated by Marks is the Five Why’s approach. As he explained “Early questions are usually superficial, obvious; the later ones more substantive.” Borrowing from Six Sigma, the site believes this approach contemplates that “By repeatedly asking the question “Why” (five is a good rule of thumb), you can peel away the layers of symptoms which can lead to the root cause of a problem. Very often the ostensible reason for a problem will lead you to another question. Although this technique is called “5 Whys,” you may find that you will need to ask the question fewer or more times than five before you find the issue related to a problem.”

Yet another approach was suggested by risk management expert Ben Locwin in an article entitled, “Human Error” Deviations: How You Can Stop Creating (Most Of) Them”. It is the “Fishbone Diagram”, also known as the “Ishikawa diagram” for its progenitor, Kaoru Ishikawa, if because it looks like the skeleton of a fish. Locwin noted that “You put the problem statement at the “head” of the fish, and the causal factor categories as the “ribs” (remember, fish have cartilage, not bone, so these categories can be adjusted to suit your needs). By having a working group list causal factors under each category, you begin to develop a visual of how many things could contribute to your main effect (the problem statement).”

The bottom line is there are multiple ways to perform a root cause analysis. However, it is not simply a matter of sitting down and asking a multitude of questions. You need to have an operational understanding of how a business operates and how they have developed their customer base. Overlay the need to understand what makes an effective compliance program, with the skepticism an auditor should bring so that you do not simply accept an answer which is provided to you, as you might in an internal investigation. Marks noted, “a root cause analysis is not something where you can just go ask the five whys. You need these trained professionals who really understand what they’re doing.”

Three Key Takeaways

  1. A root cause analysis is now required if you have a reportable compliance failure.
  2. There is no one process for performing a root cause analysis. You should select the one which works for you and follow it.
  3. To properly perform a root cause analysis, you need these trained professionals who really understand what they’re doing.

This month’s podcast sponsor is Convercent. Convercent provides your teams with a centralized platform and automated processes that connect your business goals with your ethics and values. The result? A highly strategic program that drives ethics and values to the center of your business. For more information go to