This year is the 15thanniversary of Affiliated Monitors, Inc. (AMI). Next week I am running a podcast series on the history of AMI and the sweep of history in the rise of independent monitors as well as the government’s embrace of corporate compliance and ethics programs. Yet the idea for a business centered around the role of an independent monitor was develop by AMI founder Vincent DiCianni. It is a fascinating story of how lawyers are only limited by their imaginations and how DiCianni saw a need and developed a response to that need in the founding of AMI.
DiCianni began formulating the idea of an independent monitor when he observed a series of corporate punishments which he believed did not fit the crime. As a white-collar defense lawyer in the 1990s, DiCianni saw that there was only two ways a state regulator could go if someone was convicted of a transgression such as billing mistakes or similar regulatory violations. The licensed professional would either be convicted and have their state license suspended or revoked or there would be no prosecution. DiCianni viewed this as “a death sentence” for a licensed professional. He added, “It just seemed wrong to me, but there was nothing that was out there. For about seven, eight years, this idea just percolated in my head about doing something to create these alternative sanctions, if you will, on the probationary side of things. So that a doctor or the practitioner could get better.”
The reality is that license revocation or suspension for relatively minor regulatory infractions does no good for any of the parties involved. It unfairly and harshly penalized the defendant. It penalized the public interest by removing a valuable service provider from bringing those skills to address a public need. Finally, it penalized the regulator whose interest was not always punishment but in remediation in fostering practitioners to understand and practice within a jurisdiction’s regulatory scheme.
From this point, DiCianni was able to convince some state regulators in Massachusetts to try this third way of having an independent monitor step in and assess whether a professional, who had run afoul of a regulatory scheme, could be rehabilitated via a probationary structure. He then I reached out to a number of folks in the Boston area. Some of them were regulators, some were attorneys who represented folks before the state boards, some were acting state attorneys general and some were in business. With this idea coming to fruition, the next step for DiCianni was to create a business organization to fill this niche.
One of the first things that DiCianni established with AMI was both integrity and professionalism in the company’s monitorship roles. The integrity comes from the independence that your organization can bring to the monitorship process. DiCianni said that one of the key reasons for success of a monitor is true impendence. Previously, a state regulatory board might appoint one of its own to become the monitor. In reality they were simply the “eyes and ears of the board.” Conversely, if the monitor is the best friend of the recalcitrant party, DiCianni noted, “then there’s a clear bias and lack of objectivity and neutrality to the process. AMI was able to bring itself in as a true neutral. The professionalism is the subject matter expertise you can bring to bear on a monitorship. Having both of these two ingredients was key for AMI to successfully establish itself with regulators.”
DiCianni said that another key feature of a successful monitorship is around education. A monitor is not there simply to represent the interests of a regulator, on a punitive basis. The monitor can also work to help educate a person or organization on how to better meet their regulatory obligations beyond simply meeting the base letter of the law. In other words, moving beyond simply a check-the-box program. All of these concepts had to be explained, literally again and again to regulators. DiCianni said, “It is talking to them, explaining to them what you do, telling them sort of the benefits of what they’re getting here and then showing them some of the examples of how monitoring works.” He spent “a lot of time sort of building some ground swell of support for the concept of the independent monitor.”
I asked DiCianni what he was most proud of from the creation of AMI in 2004 up through the 15th anniversary. He said there were three things. The first is that he was able to take an idea, the need for an independent monitor, and germinate it into an ongoing, successful and viable business concern. He stated, “I know the one thing that sort of stands out to me is the fact that I was able to take an idea that I had and it just was rolling around in my head for those years and to be able to put it into the form of a company. From there I was able to create a brand for the organization. I’m very proud of that and that’s something that I can take to my grave and say I did something that sort of made a difference.”
The second was through the work of AMI, DiCianni has helped not only companies become more robust around ethics and compliance but AMI has helped them become better run organizations. He said, “the fact that we really have helped a lot of companies. We’ve just wrapped up a few matters, and we get these unsolicited comments by our clients and when they say you’ve made, we didn’t want to have a monitor, but you made us a better company. That makes you feel great. It really does. Because we do provide great services. We do try to meet that mandate of helping the company get better. And when you do that, that’s been very fulfilling.” The final thing that DiCianni mentioned was the people of AMI. He said, “The last thing that I’m proud of is that I have a remarkable team of people. I have a great team of people dedicated and passionate about the work that we do. So that makes me very proud. We never know what the next day is going to bring. And so there’s a level of uncertainty, which is a good thing because you never know what the next case could be. So again, Tom, it’s been a great 15 years and I’m really looking forward to more of this.”
The story of DiCianni and the history of AMI demonstrates that innovation can come in many ways, shapes and forms. DiCianni and AMI led the way by creating a business model centered around independent monitorships. It continues to do so today.
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© Thomas R. Fox, 2019