This one day fraud symposium, sponsored by Baker Tilly’s Global Forensic, Compliance and Integrity Services and Solutions Practice Group and hosted by the Institute of Internal Auditors, Philadelphia Chapter, will include topics such as:
Jonathan is the firm leader of the global fraud and forensic investigations and compliance practice. He has more than 30 years of experience working closely with his clients, their board, senior management and law firms on global and cross-border fraud and misconduct investigations, including bribery, corruption and compliance matters. He is a well-regarded author and speaker, who has gained international recognition for developing thought leadership that has enhanced the profession.
Niki A. den Nieuwenboer, Assistant Professor of Organizational Behavior and Business Ethics, The University of Kansas School of Business
“Tone in the Middle”
We know that leadership matters in fostering ethical conduct at work. However, the focus is often on top level managers and their “tone at the top.” The role of middle managers has remained somewhat of a mystery until now. Niki den Nieuwenboer will discuss her recent study that examined a case where middle managers, in response to upper management pressures, coerced front-line employees to deceive upper management about their performance. She will spotlight the creative role that middle managers played in finding ways to cheat, and discuss implications for ethics management and fraud prevention.
The new DOJ guidance on effective compliance programs is full of requirements to assess risk and manage the compliance program through a risk-based method. Culture is also of importance, and ensuring a culture of compliance is emphasized in the guidance. Having a compliance risk methodology that incorporates compliance, ethics, and culture to identify areas of risk is key to ensuring limited resources get directed to the right place.
“Investigations: Strategies to avoid common pitfalls”
Conducting an effective and thorough investigation into alleged wrongdoing has always been a hallmark of an effective compliance program. Unfortunately, many of the investigations fail to achieve their intended results.
Ed Broecker will address some of the common pitfalls to avoid in conducting an internal investigation. The session will discuss initial intake and appropriately triaging the allegation and developing the correct team and work plan to conducting interviews. The discussion will also address report writing and determining the root cause. This session will highlight many of the shortcomings in an investigation and offer practical suggestions for addressing them including issues around bias, privilege, confidentiality/privacy and reporting back to the complainant.
“The Code of Conduct – Effective Policy Development and Management”
The Code of Conduct sets the tone and reinforces the importance of conducting business within the framework of professional standards, laws, and regulations, together with policies, values, and standards. It outlines the values and behaviours that define how organizations do business. It holds people accountable to be open-minded and responsive and to give their best.
Policies & procedures must be in place to safeguard and educate staff, to protect the organization against unnecessary risk, ensure the consistent operation of the business, uphold ethical values of the organization, and to defend the organization should it land in turbulent legal waters.
However, effectively developing and managing policies is easier said than done.
Good policies generally are –
Written in clear, concise, simple language.
Policy statements address what is the rule rather than how to implement the
Policy statements are readily available to the campus community and their
authority is clear.
Designated “policy experts” (identified in each document) are readily
available to interpret policies and resolve problems.
As a body, they represent a consistent, logical framework for organizational action.
in practice, we know that ad hoc or passive approaches mean that key policies are outdated, scattered across the business, and not consistent– resulting in confusion for recipients; and an insufficient level of governance and reporting for auditors and regulators.
It is no longer enough to simply make policies available. Organizations need to guarantee receipt, affirmation AND understanding of policies across the business.
To consistently manage and communicate policies, organizations are turning toward defined processes and technologies to manage the Policy lifecycle. The continual growth of regulatory requirements, complex business operations, and global expansion demand a well thought-out and implemented approach to policy management.
Attendees will be guided through a discussion on how to develop and implement an effective policy management process within their organization.
“Whistleblower Activity: What’s Good, What’s Real, What Matters”
Compliance and audit professionals all talk about the need for a strong culture of whistleblower encouragement and protection. This session will review what some new data tells us about whistleblowing and corporate culture, and how risk assurance functions can develop a healthy appreciation for internal reporting.
How do levels of internal reporting correlate to corporate performance?
What types of whistleblower allegations are most likely to be true?
How should boards and risk assurance functions handle whistleblowing, based on what the data tells us?
This session will explore some of the data that professor Kyle Welch has been crunching, and some of the counter-intuitive findings he’s dug up. Then talk about how those findings would color what compliance, audit, and anti-fraud people do for investigations and working with senior leaders to cultivate a strong internal speakup culture.
Location Exelon Hall – Just enter the building lobby at 23rd and Market Street and follow the signs down the stairs to Exelon Hall. No building access is needed for access to the hall.
Continuing Professional Education Credits – The Philadelphia Chapter of the Institute of Internal Auditors is registered with the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) as a sponsor of continuing professional education on the National Registry of CPE Sponsors. State boards of accountancy have final authority on the acceptance of individual courses for CPE credit. Complaints regarding registered sponsors may be submitted to the National Registry of CPE Sponsors through its website: www.learningmarket.org.
*Speakers and Topics may change due to a variety of factors. We will do our best to adhere to the agenda.
This writing will highlight some of the more unusual bribery schemes described in 2019 Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) enforcement actions and also consider their impact on compliance programs, what they mean for the compliance professional and how the government could potentially use these cases to require more effective compliance programs going forward.
Discounts to Distributors
The Microsoft Corporation FCPA enforcement action demonstrated a failure around the company’s policy on providing discounts to distributors and other third-party sellers. The company had a policy requiring a review of discounts above certain thresholds be approved by Microsoft’s Business Desk. But this approval required a valid business justification before the discount could be granted. Unfortunately, a cut and paste job was done by the local business unit, which included a “competition with competitors”, “customer price sensitivity” and the ubiquitous “possibility” of winning other work as justifications for the discount.
These business justifications were provided with no supporting documentation and were approved by the Business Desk. There was a time limit expiration on these discounts; however, there was no follow up by the Business Desk to determine if the discount was revoked or otherwise taken off the table after the time limit expired. You might think that after multiple requests for discounts from the same business unit, which included the same justifications of competition with competitors, customer price sensitivity and the possibility of winning other work someone, the Business Desk might have at least asked them to cut and paste a different business justification to support the discount.
There must be a comprehensive discount approval process for distributors, which must be followed, tested and include effective oversight. If a business submits multiple requests for a discount and each request includes the same business justification the approver should become suspicious and request proper supporting documentation before granting these requests. As far back as the BHP Billiton FCPA enforcement action, where the business justification for government travel to the 2008 Beijing Olympics became a cut and paste job, the regulators have made clear that there must be a substantive reason for the discount and that discount must be tested.
This testing also comes in the form of reviewing, with a critical eye, the backup documentation provided to demonstrate the business case for the discount. If there is no documentation, the discount request should not be approved. If there are conditions attached to the discount approval, such as a time limit expiration on the discounts; there must be follow up to determine if the discount was revoked or otherwise taken off the table.
Bribery Scheme-JV Formation
There were multiple bribery schemes employed by Fresenius Medical Care AG & Co. KGaA (FMC). One of these schemes included the setting up of joint ventures (JV) as a mechanism to pay corrupt doctors, employees of state-owned health care enterprises and government officials who were also medical officials. There was one JV in Angola and two in Turkey created for illicit purposes. In both bribery schemes, 35% of the JV interest was doled out to the corrupt officials. There was no capital contribution required from the employees of state-owned enterprises and government officials. The employees of state-owned enterprises and government officials all cashed out at some point for monetary values far above their individual monetary values in the JVs.
Bribery Scheme-Hidden Interests
Westport Fuels Systems, Inc. (Westport) and a Chinese state-owned enterprise were 50/50 owners in a JV. It was restructured so that a portion of the shares held by Westport and a privately held Hong Kong conglomerate would have to be transferred to the state-owned enterprise and a Chinese private equity fund in which senior Chinese government official held a significant financial interest. The Chinese government official sought and received a low valuation of the JV so he could make a quick turnaround of profitability outside the scrutiny of Chinese regulators. Westport’s Board of Directors authorized Westport’s management to complete the negotiations and execute the share transfer. The final deal agreed upon was a valuation of $70 million for the Chinese JV, with Westport agreeing to transfer its shares to the state-owned enterprise and the private equity fund in exchange for a long-term framework supply agreement.
Forming the JV
JVs provide many FCPA risks that other types of business relationships do not bring. For instance, the JV may interact with foreign government officials or employees of a state-owned enterprise; then leverage those relationships for an improper benefit relating to contracts, regulatory licenses, permits or customs approvals. It is difficult to regulate a JVs interaction with foreign government officials when your partner is a state-owned enterprise, or where your company is relying on the local company for its local contacts and expertise for business development and/or regulatory knowledge and experience.
The risks are compounded when the US Company does not exercise control over the JV. This is further compounded by the fact there is no minimum threshold for a FCPA enforcement action against a US company for the actions of a JV in which it holds an interest. If a company holds something less than majority rights, it must urge, beg and plead for the majority partner to adhere to anti-corruption compliance standards and controls. Often, these requirements are established in the JV agreement but the success in securing such contract protections depends on the importance of the global company to the JV itself. The government not only considers the percentage of ownership in the JV but also considers the company’s ability to influence and control the JV. Therefore, it is important to impart your compliance program requirements to the JV is the JV does not have its own compliance function and/or program, including relevant policies and procedures.
Knowing who your JV partners before entering the business relationship is critical. Therefore, a robust due diligence is something you must conduct from the start. Both the FMC and Westport enforcement actions demonstrate that if a government official has or even hides an interest in a JV; payments, distributions and buy-outs can be an avenue to make corrupt payments.
The JV Agreement
As a starting point, it is important to have compliance terms and conditions, these reasons can include some of the following: 1) to set expectations between the parties; 2) to demonstrate the seriousness of the issue to the non-US party; and 3) to provide a financial incentive to conduct business in compliant manner.
You must have an absolute prohibition of all forms of bribery and corruption. Many foreign JV partners may not understand that the FCPA applies to them if they partner in a business relationship with a US company. Further, they do not understand that they may be covered persons under the FCPA. This all must be spelled out for them. Audit rights are a key clause in any compliance terms and conditions and must be secured.
Managing the Relationship
A key tool in managing the affiliation with a JV post-contract execution is effective auditing techniques. Your compliance audit should be a systematic, independent and documented process for obtaining evidence and evaluating it objectively to determine the extent to which your compliance terms and conditions are followed. You should work to obtain, review, analyze and evaluate relevant data; and use the data as a basis to remediate any issues which have arisen in the operation of the JV.
In addition to monitoring and oversight of your JVs, you should periodically review the health of your JV management program. The robustness of your JV management program will go a long way towards preventing, detecting and remediating any compliance issue before it becomes a full-blown FCPA violation. As with all the steps laid out, you need to fully document all steps you have taken so that any regulator can review and test your metrics. The 2019 Evaluation of Corporate Compliance Programs (2019 Guidance) lays out what the Department of Justice (DOJ) will be reviewing and evaluating going forward for your compliance program. You should also use these metrics to conduct a self-assessment on the state of your compliance program for your JVs.
Sham Third Parties and Third Party Services
Sham Third Parties
In the FCPA enforcement action involving Quad/Graphics Inc., the bribes were paid through the tried and true method of sham third party vendors. While the bribery scheme was about as basic as you could get for “sham-ness” as the third-party vendors were all owned by the same individual, their basic corporate information was all the same as they were all registered in Lima, Peru, with the same address and with no real business operations. Needless to same Quad failed to perform any due diligence on them. The services performed by the Sham Vendors of course contributed to their “sham-ness” as while the Sham Vendors submitted invoices allegedly for pre-press, modulation and/or packaging services none of them performed any such services for the company. Indeed, all these services were performed on site by Quad Peru employees.
The billing by the Sham Vendors and the form of payment to the Sham Vendors was also evidence of their “sham-ness”. Several of the invoices submitted contained red flags, including having the same date and dollar amounts and consecutive invoice numbers. Other red flags included, whole and rounded dollar amounts, large invoice amounts that were disproportionate to the services described, invoices that were consecutively numbered with the same date and invoices without purchase orders or any supporting documentation.
Sham Third Party Services
Fresenius used another bribery scheme in Angola. It was the creation of fraudulent storage payments with a shell company owned by the sons of an Angolan government official, a Military Health Officer in charge of purchasing, to provide warehousing space for a warehouse which housed no FMC products. In or around December 2011, FMC Angola paid approximately $560,000 to this shell company for purported “Temporary Storage Services,” However, no FMC company products were ever stored at the warehouse. When the company’s internal audit function unearthed this scheme, the local business unit simply put a contract in place, executing a written contract with the Shareholder Company to provide temporary storage services for approximately $77,000 per month from January 2012 to January 2013. Once again, no company products were ever stored at the warehouse.
The steps in the lifecycle management of any third-party are mandatory for every compliance program. There should be a business justification which is reviewed by an appropriate level of compliance personnel. These forms are usually sent and collected by a business sponsor who governs the relationship with the third parties. The next step involves robust due diligence for any third parties, whether they are sales side representatives or provide goods/services to your organization through the Supply Chain. The level of due diligence is based upon the risk score assigned to each of the third parties. Quad/Graphics Inc. (Quad/Graphics) is the starkest in this area as a simple check on the corrupt third-parties would have revealed that they were all owned by the same individual, their corporate information was all the same as they were all registered in the same city, with the same address. This was topped off by the fact that they had no real business operations and any visual inspection of their stated business address would have revealed this.
Yet the most important step is managing the relationship after the contract is signed. This is the key lesson from Quad/Graphics and FMC. What does the information included in the invoice provide to you? Are the services delivered legitimate? For Quad/, the services described were performed by in-country Quad/Graphics employees. In the case of FMC, the services listed were for the non-existent storage of non-existent products. Other indicia of fraud and corruption found in invoices include multiple invoices with consecutive numbering’ with the same date and dollar amount, invoices with rounded dollar amounts, invoices with no supporting documentation and, finally, hand delivery of check so there was no bank to verify the accounts. A simple review by someone who knew what they were doing would have raised red flags and lead to further investigation.
I welcome you comments and thoughts and wish everyone a happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year!
The United States government’s fiscal year ended September 30, 2019. Just as in the business world, where many companies try and clear out any unexecuted deals or open contracts, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) cleared out three outstanding Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) enforcement actions. The three enforcement actions involved Quad/Graphics Inc., a Wisconsin-based digital and print marketing provider and its Peruvian subsidiary, Quad/Graphics Peru S.A.; Barclays PLC; and a Canadian clean fuel company Westport Fuels Systems, Inc. and its former Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Nancy Gougarty of Leesville, South Carolina. The terms of each settlement agreement provide a different lesson for compliance practitioners.
Quad/Graphics – Be Alert for Sham Vendors
According to the SEC Press Release and related order, Quad/Graphics’ actions violated the FCPA in several instances identified by the Commission from 2011 to 2016. Their international troubles began with the 2010 merger of Canadian printing company World Color Press, Inc. The merger introduced a significant international presence for Quad/Graphics, yet accounting controls, anti-corruption policies, and an FCPA compliance program were not in place. Simply put, the compliance function was not preemptively prepared for the new influx of international issues. The company was slow to prioritize attention to these issues, and equally slow to begin the process of introducing the necessary measures to combat them. Consequently, Quad/Graphics’ Peruvian subsidiary, Quad/Graphics Peru S.A., was found to have deployed questionable business practices to win business contracts and to avoid penalties in tax litigation, using fraudulent third party vendors to carry out the bribes. The company has agreed to pay $6,936,174 in disgorgement, $959,160 in prejudgment interest, and a $2 million civil penalty, for total monetary relief of nearly $10 million.
In addition to the challenges in Peru, following the merger of World Color, Quad/Graphics maintained the acquired business relationships with Cuban counterparts in spite of U.S. sanctions and export law restrictions. In doing so, they concealed the transactions internally through written communication and by falsifying financial records which serve as proof of their illegal behavior. It is also identified in the commission’s order that illicit payments to various Chinese officials and employees in Chinese companies were either promised or made in order to secure sales in an otherwise limited market. Both instances further the argument that Quad/Graphics was not prepared for the international business which they took on.
In order to understand the key lesson in this case, we must consider the creation of, billing by, and payments made to the purported third party vendors or the “Sham Vendors”. Regarding the billing, the Order stated, “two concerned managers in Peru approached him [Finance Director] about several suspicious invoices that had recently been submitted by two of the Sham Vendors. Several of the invoices contained red flags of bribery and corruption, including having the same date and dollar amounts and consecutive invoice numbers. Upon review, the new Senior Finance Manager agreed the invoices were problematic and declined to approve them.” Other red flags present on the Sham Vendors invoices included “vendor invoices with rounded dollar amounts, large invoice amounts that were disproportionate to the services described, invoices that were consecutively numbered (sometimes with the same date) and invoices without purchase orders or other supporting documentation.” On the payment side, although there were some wire transfers made to the Sham Vendors bank accounts, a large number of invoices were paid “by checks that were hand delivered to the Sham Vendor’s principal or the Sham Vendor’s accountant in Peru.” Upon inspection, the commission noted that 3 of the 4 Sham Vendors had the same address and none had any real business operations.
Barclays – Don’t Forget the Basics
Barclays is well known for its prior regulatory stumbles in the banking sector, and for the actions of its Chief Executive to unmask an anonymous whistleblower. Barclays experienced additional grief from an FCPA enforcement action, based upon hiring practices in the Asia Pacific Region (APAC). According to the SEC Press Release, Barclays’ employees hired 117 candidates with connection to their non-government clients or to foreign government officials. It was understood the hiring of these candidates was exchangeable for current or future business opportunities. Barclays agreed to pay $6,308,726, consisting of disgorgement of $3,824,686, prejudgment interest of $984,040 and a $1.5 million civil penalty as a result of the SEC findings.
In addition to the instances of violations cited in the Order in which compliance employees acted knowingly in their unethical hiring practices, or where employees responsible for hiring were circumventing the compliance function, the Order also cites several instances in which blissful ignorance contributes to the company’s illegal actions. Examples of senior executives who were not only unaware of the basic anti-corruption conduct prohibited by the FCPA, but also the specific prohibitions of hiring relatives of foreign officials “quid pro quo” are identified in the commission’s findings. This lack of training on the very basics of the FCPA and also of elements of anti-bribery/anti-corruption compliance is something that every compliance professional needs to be reminded of. Training is a foundational component of any well-designed compliance program and simply cannot be ignored.
The Barclays enforcement action presents some very (back to the) basics lessons for the compliance professional. First, you must consider the effectiveness of your compliance programs: Are they current? How are they being tested? Second, you must consider your corporate gatekeepers: When was the last time you tested gatekeeper roles performed by your compliance function to verify they are actually being performed correctly? Are those gatekeepers aware of what is required of them? Maybe it’s time to start asking some questions.
Westport Fuels Systems, Inc. – Control Fraud
The third FCPA resolution involved Westport Fuels Systems, Inc., a Canadian clean fuel technology company headquartered in Vancouver, Canada, and its former CEO, Nancy Gougarty.
The unusual features of this corruption scheme were two-fold. The first was the bribery scheme itself. While there have been previous FCPA enforcements where the interest in an entity was the quid of the quid pro quo; this scheme was a more sophisticated operation.
For all of these FCPA violations, Westport also agreed to pay $2,546,000 in disgorgement and prejudgment interest and a civil penalty of $1,500,000, and Gougarty agreed to pay a civil penalty of $120,000.
The problem for Westport started when the company wanted to take the Chinese JV public through an IPO and were falsely informed that the newly formed public company had to be majority Chinese-owned in order to do so. During this process, it was uncovered that the Chinese Government Official who was working for the State Owned Entity (SOE) that was the largest shareholder of the IPO prospect company, had a financial interest in the private equity firm targeted to manage the IPO. This fact was brought to Gougarty’s attention, utilized in the negotiation process, and intentionally concealed from Westport’s board of directors. The deal called for shares of the joint venture to be transferred into the private equity fund in exchange for a dividend payment from the State Owned Entity. Tight for cash due to a decline in sales, the CEO was eager to finalize this transaction. Consequently, she allowed the shares of the JV go undervalued when transferring to the private equity firm.
Further, in addition to the dividend payment, Gougarty was eager to secure new business as a result of the transaction. She at first suggested, and later demanded that a framework supply agreement be included in the terms of the deal. The CEO “explicitly conditioned the share transfer on obtaining a long-term sales agreement” and instructed her team on the ground that “no component sales contract, no share transfer”. This about as quid pro quo as you can get.
After the bribery scheme was effectuated, Gougarty continued her fraudulent conduct by falsely identifying payments to another entity rather than the true counterparty, the private equity firm. She compounded this fraud, in connection with the filing of the Form 40-F, falsely executing a certification attesting “that Westport had disclosed all significant deficiencies and material weaknesses in the design and operation of its internal controls to the outside auditors”. In reality, Gougarty was responsible for falsified transactional data in the financial reporting related to the bribery scheme. She also failed to disclose the internal control weaknesses that allowed her to do so.
Gougarty’s conduct appears to be “control fraud”.
Control fraud occurs when a trusted person in a high position of responsibility in a company, corporation, or state subverts the organization and engages in extensive fraud for personal gain. The term “control fraud” was coined by William K. Black to refer both to the acts of fraud and to the individuals who commit them.
Subversion in this case refers to the circumvention or overriding of internal controls or policies and procedures. This scheme was designed to create a “pot of money” to fund another type of fraud, bribery and corruption.
When you have the CEO herself engaging in this type of behavior you have to ask where was the board of directors? How was she selected? What did senior management know? This was a very expensive lesson.
These three SEC enforcement actions all provide important lessons for the compliance practitioner. The actions should be not only studied by compliance professionals, but also the lessons passed along to business unit personnel to further alert employees of red flags of bribery and corruption schemes that may be present in the business operating environment. Finally, never forget the basics of the FCPA and the importance of proper education around the Act; what it mandates and more importantly, what it prohibits.
On November 20th, 2019, The Department of Justice (“DOJ”) announced updates to its Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”) Corporate Enforcement Policy. While the changes were relatively minor, the modifications underscored important principles surrounding the FCPA Corporate Enforcement Policy.
This latest update followsextensive revisions made in March of this yearand the announcement that the FCPA Policy will apply as non-binding guidance for all criminal cases; all reflect DOJ’s continued efforts to promote self-disclosures and provide clarity on DOJ’s approach for companies deciding whether to self-disclose.
There is little doubt the DOJ has landed on a Corporate Enforcement Policy that took years to develop. The FCPA Corporate Enforcement Policy now applies to all corporate criminal prosecutions except Antirust Division criminal prosecutions that are guided by the Leniency Program. The DOJ is consistently applying the principles and appears to be very comfortable with the results.
At the same time, DOJ has increased transparency in its resolution of corporate enforcement actions. DOJ now publishes declination letters and provides specific descriptions of how factors are applied to a corporate resolution. Note: At the time of this writing there were six (6) corporate resolutions.
The Policy is intended to encourage corporations to self-report, cooperate and remediate – in exchange for a possible declination or significant reductions in penalties. The updated Policy tilts in favor of prosecution of responsible individuals and part of the DOJ’s commitment to seek out and punish wrongdoers.
The Policy now states that a company must disclose “all relevant facts known to it at the time of the disclosure.” DOJ added a footnote, stating that it “recognizes that a company may not be in a position to know all relevant facts at the time of a voluntary self-disclosure.” A company that makes a disclosure while continuing its investigation should make this fact known to DOJ.
Further, to encourage companies to make an early disclosure, the Policy now requires companies to disclose facts “as to any individuals” who played a substantial part in the “misconduct at issue.”
The previous Policy required companies to disclose “all relevant facts” regarding individuals substantially involved in a “violation of law.” A company making a disclosure no longer has to reach a determination (and inform DOJ) that a “violation” occurred at the beginning of an investigation.
Similarly, companies now need only alert DOJ of evidence of the misconduct when they become aware of it. Previously, in order to gain credit, where the company was or should have been aware of relevant evidence outside of its possession, the company had to identify such evidence to DOJ. The Policy has been updated to remove the conditional language, which should ease the burden on companies seeking to comply with the Policy.
Accordingly to Mike Volkov, the updates to the Policy highlight DOJ’s desire for self-disclosures that are both substantive and made at an early stage. They are also practical, in particular removing the requirement that a company identify evidence of which it “should be” aware. The changes are in line with other recent DOJ policy changes, seeking to recognize practical realities of the policies.
With the recent changes to the policy, companies now are obligated only to disclose relevant facts known “at the time of the disclosure” and to provide information regarding any — not all — “individuals substantially involved in or responsible for the misconduct at issue.”
Importantly, companies need not wait to determine that a violation of law has occurred and may report suspected misconduct. As stated in a footnote, this modification reflects the DOJ’s recognition that disclosing companies “may not be in a position to know all relevant facts at the time of a voluntary self-disclosure.” In that case, companies are urged to fully disclose suspected misconduct “based upon a preliminary investigation or assessment of information.”
Volkov further stated, these changes are important because DOJ has clarified the precise information that a self-disclosing company must provide to trigger the potential benefits possible under the policy. From a practical standpoint, companies faced a difficult choice — disclose a potential violation based on a cursory investigation subject to DOJ’s determination that the company failed to disclose “within a reasonably prompt time.”
The DOJ’s modification directs companies to report what they know upon discovery of a suspected violation, while making clear to the DOJ that the disclosure is based on a preliminary findings.
Under the recent revisions, companies are no longer expected to identify every piece of evidence of which they should have been aware or potential collection by the DOJ. Instead, companies now are obligated only to identify relevant evidence not in their possession of which they actually are aware.
The modifications eliminates some of the risk that DOJ could determine that a company was not entitled to cooperation credit when DOJ identifies evidence that a companyshould have known about.
DOJ’s recent revisions indicate that it is satisfied with its Policy and want to make it work even better. By addressing some theoretical concerns that may have caused companies not to disclose potential violations, DOJ is taking steps to encourage companies to step forward and disclose potential violations.
Since its introduction as a pilot program and subsequent adoption into the Justice Manual a few years back, the DOJ has continuously honed its FCPA Policy—each time encouraging prompt but thorough self-disclosures.
Boards of Directors and Senior Leadership should take notice of DOJ’s policy changes and DOJ’s attempts to encourage such disclosures and adjust their tactics and strategy accordingly.
Specifically, it becomes even more important to have experienced investigators that can “ring fence” issues early! This will help in deciding whether or not to self-disclose in order to maximize the potential benefits of the FCPA Policy.
Welcome to my site. I have spoken and been the keynote speaker for many conferences, including the ABA, ACC, ACFE, IIA, and IMA to name a few. I have designed customized training for the board, senior leadership, legal, compliance, internal audit, and others for some of the world’s largest organizations.
“I have had the pleasure to hear Jonathan Marks speak on a number of occasions. …most recently at a Fraud conference sponsored by the Long Island Institute of Internal Audit. Jonathan gave a dynamic and engaging half day presentation on fraud in financial reporting. He engages his audience with his expertise and knowledge of risk management, fraud and internal audit. His ability to share his experiences in fraud investigations over the past thirty years coupled with his interactive approach with his audience made for a compelling and memorable presentation.” Chief Audit Executive
If you are interested in booking me for your next event or need customized training, please email me with the date or dates, location and address of presentation, the audience make-up, the subjects you would like covered, and the duration of the talk or training.
I have provided you with some Selected Training Programs (See below) and please peruse my blog posts for some additional topics and ideas. Keep in mind I speak and provide training on most anything related to governance, risk, and compliance, with a focus on fraud and forensics.
I will do my best to get back to you quickly.
Jonathan T. Marks, CPA, CFF, CITP, CGMA, CFE and NACD Board Fellow
Selected Training Programs
Management Override of Internal Controls
The risk of management override of internal controls to commit fraud exists in any organization. When the opportunity to override internal controls is combined with powerful incentives to meet accounting objectives, senior management might engage in fraudulent financial reporting. This session will examine management override, focusing on the differences between the override of existing controls versus other, more prevalent breakdowns. It will also explore actions to help mitigate the threat of management override, approaches to auditing for management override and the psychology behind management’s override of controls. You Will Learn How To:
Identify red flags of management overriding controls
Ascertain an approach to auditing for management override
Assess the latest trends and research regarding management override of controls
Develop a better fraud risk assessment that highlights areas and gatekeepers that might have a greater chance of overriding controls.
Operationalizing Compliance – Master Class with Tom Fox, Esquire
The Master Class developed by Tom Fox, provides a unique opportunity for any level of FCPA compliance practitioner, from the seasoned Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) and Chief Audit Executive (CAE), Chief Legal Counsel (CLO), to the practitioner who is new to the compliance profession.
If you are looking for a training class to turbocharge your knowledge on the nuts and bolts of a best practices compliance program going forward, this is the class for you to attend. Moreover, as I limit the class to 20 attendees, you will have an intensive focus group of like-minded compliance practitioners with which you can share best practices. It allows us to tailor the discussion to your needs. Mary Shirley, an attendee at the recent Boston Master Class said, “This is a great two-day course for getting new folks up to speed on what matters in Compliance programs.”
Tom Fox is one of the leading commentators in the compliance space partners with Jonathan T. Marks to bring a unique insight of what many companies have done right and many have done not so well over the years. This professional experience has enabled him to put together a unique educational opportunity for any person interested in anti-corruption compliance. Simply stated, there is no other compliance training on the market quite like it. Armed with this information, at the conclusion of the Doing Compliance Master Class, you will be able to implement or enhance your compliance program, with many ideas at little or no cost.
The Doing Compliance Master Class will move from the theory of the FCPA into the doing of compliance and how you must document this work to create a best practices compliance program. Building from the Ten Hallmarks of an Effective Compliance, using the questions posed from the Evaluation of Corporate Compliance Programs and the FCPA Corporate Enforcement Policy as a guide, you will learn the intricacies of risk assessments; what should be included in your policies and procedures; the five-step life cycle of third-party risk evaluation and management; tone throughout your organization; training and using other corporate functions to facilitate cost-effective compliance programs.
Highlights of the training include:
Understanding the underlying legal basis for the law, what is required for a violation and how that information should be baked into your compliance program;
What are the best practices of an effective compliance program;
Why internal controls are the compliance practitioners best friend;
How you can use transaction monitoring to not only make your compliance program more robust but as a self-funding mechanism;
Your ethical requirements as a compliance practitioner;
How to document what you have accomplished;
Risk assessments – what they are and how you can perform one each year.
You will be able to walk away from the class with a clear understanding of what anti-corruption compliance is and what it requires; an overview of international corruption initiatives and how they all relate to FCPA compliance; how to deal with third parties, from initial introduction through contracting and managing the relationship, what should be included in your gifts, travel, entertainment (GTE) and hospitality policies; the conundrum of facilitation payments; charitable donations and political contributions, and trends in compliance. You will also learn about the importance of internal controls and how to meet the strict liability burden present around this requirement of FCPA compliance.
Ethics and Governance Training
This session will cover how ethics is key to good governance and how governance fits into your anti-fraud program. Moreover, we will explore the components of a Sample Code of Ethics, the cost of ethical lapses, organizational situations that encourage bad behavior, the new ethics paradigm, and how to spot a moral meltdown.
Corporate Governance During a Crisis
We also discuss leading practices in crisis management and present several scenarios allow the participant(s) to work though mock crisis scenarios. For example, in your first week at your company, you just received information about an alleged massive fraud and you are now in a crisis. In this session, members of the audience will play different roles within the company (members of the board, legal department, managers, etc.) to have a discussion, including:
What type of crisis plan do you have, if any?
What to do and how to formulate a plan of action?
Who to call first, how to prioritize tasks, and where to prioritize resources?
Who (internal and external players) to get involved and when to get them involved
What data is needed when a crisis hits?
How to prepare for the media and when to reach out?
How to communicate with customers, vendors and suppliers, regulatory agencies, and other parties?
Fraud Risk Assessment Process and Guidance
Many professionals struggle with developing a fraud risk assessment that is meaningful. We discuss the objectives of a fraud risk assessment, the components of a fraud, and key considerations for developing an effective assessment. Then we explore the sources of risk, the fraud risk universe, and some of the key components of the assessment. Lastly, we walk through the key steps in the assessment process and walk through a sample fraud risk assessment that considers COSO’s Principle 8, which contains considerably more discussion on fraud and considers the potential of fraud as a principle of internal control.
FCPA (Bribery and Corruption): Building a Culture of Compliance
This session covers why compliance is important and the new guidance issues by the DOJ. We also explore current regulatory enforcement trends, whistleblowers Under Dodd-Frank, the U.S. Federal Sentencing Guidelines, risk-based third-party due diligence, way to thwart an investigation, differences and similarities between the FCPA and the U.K. Bribery Act, successor liability, and provides the participant with a proven 13-Step Action Plan.
Knowing what to do when an allegation of fraud is presented is critical. Failing to understand the process could jeopardize the ability to prosecute wrongdoers. This session discusses why investigations are important, inherent risk and exposures, the types of investigations: internal and independent, board considerations, triaging an allegation, investigative challenges, and keys to running a successful investigation, and why root cause analysis should be considered after completing the investigation.
Third Party Risk Management and Oversight
Third party risk is the biggest nemesis when it comes to FCPA violations. This session discusses the key components of a compliance program and why it needs to be evolving to meet the business and compliance challenges, which are constantly occurring across the globe. We explore the latest DOJ guidance on the evaluation of corporate compliance programs. We build our discussion on the foundation of the key steps to be included in a third-party risk management program and cover some of the red flags of agents and consultants.
Putting the Freud in Fraud: The Mind Behind the White Collar Criminal
To properly fight corporate fraud we need to understand how a fraudster’s normal differs, so executives, managers and board members can develop more effective anti-fraud programs that take into account the behavioral and environmental factors that are common in cases of white-collar crime. By establishing an environment in which ethical behavior is expected — and by understanding how white-collar criminals look at the world differently — it is possible to begin closing the gaps in internal controls, develop a proactive fraud risk assessment and response program and significantly reduce the financial and reputational risks associated with fraud.
In this session, we take a closer look at the personality traits of individual perpetrators of massive fraud.
Discuss the basics of profiling and identifying elements of behavior common among white-collar criminals.
Discover what role company culture plays in the commission of fraud.
Hear cutting-edge ideas and methods to help detect and deter fraud.
This session is a “nuts and bolts” discussion about fraud and responding to fraud in an effort to reduce the incidence of fraud and white-collar crime. We go into the characteristics of fraud, who commits fraud, the fraud triangle and Pentagon™, the components of fraud, the regulatory environment & the focus on increased personal responsibility, internal controls to deter and detect fraud, and anti-fraud programs.
Triaging a Whistleblower Allegation
As corporations continue to adopt whistleblower programs, many find themselves struggling to manage burgeoning caseloads. As a result, serious internal fraud investigations can be delayed (with mounting losses) while less consequential complaints are being investigated. The lack of a timely, systematic and repeatable process for evaluating and prioritizing whistleblower tips, which can also expose an organization to increased regulatory risk. While there is no single, “right” method for following up on whistleblower complaints, this session discusses Why Investigating allegations or tips are important, why timeliness matters, investigation challenges, and provides the participant with a sample approach.
Skepticism: A Primary Weapon in the Fight Against Fraud
What happens when we don’t ask why? Professional skepticism occurs when those responsible for fighting fraud take nothing for granted, continuously question what they hear and see and critically assess all evidence and statements. This session we discuss the role of independent reviewer or inspector, particularly of your own assumptions, whether you are placing undue weight on prior risk assessments or discounting evidence inconsistent with your expectations, and pressures placed on you to truncate procedures or make unwarranted assumptions to beat time constraints.
Root Cause Analysis
The regulators are expecting more today and want to know that your remediation efforts are not treating the symptoms), but rather the root cause(s).
Root cause analysis is a tool to help identify not only what and how an event occurred, but also why it happened. This analysis is a key element of a fraud risk management program and is now a best practice or hallmark of an organizations compliance program. When able to determine why an event or failure occurred, it is then possible to recommend workable corrective measures that deter future fraud events of the type observed. It is important that those conducting the root cause analysis are thinking critically by asking the right questions (sometimes probing), applying the proper level of skepticism, and when appropriate examining the information (evidence) from multiple perspectives.
This program is designed to introduce the common methods used for conducting root cause analysis and to develop an understanding of how to identify root causes (not just causal factors) using proven techniques. In addition, we will demonstrate how to initiate a root cause analysis incident exercise and work with senior management, legal, compliance, and internal audit on an appropriate resolution. We also introduce the “spheres” acting around the “meta model of fraud” and how to use those “spheres” in the root cause process. Finally, this program will present the “three lines of defense”, which provides the audit committee and senior management with a better understanding where the break downs occurred.
The Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) announced that Westport Fuels Systems, Inc. (Westport”), a Canadian clean fuel technology company headquartered in Vancouver, Canada, and its former chief executive officer, Nancy Gougarty (“Gougarty”), age 64 of Leesville, South Carolina, have agreed to pay more than $4.1 million to resolve charges that they violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”) by paying bribes to a foreign government official in China.
According to the SEC’s order, beginning no later than 2016, Westport, acting through Gougarty and others, engaged in a scheme to bribe a Chinese government official to obtain business and a cash dividend payment by transferring shares of stock in Westport’s Chinese joint venture to a Chinese private equity fund in which the government official held a financial interest.
The SEC order states that Westport concealed the identity of the Chinese private equity fund in its public filings, as well as in its books and records, by falsely identifying a different entity as the counterparty to the transaction. Gougarty caused Westport’s violations by circumventing Westport’s internal accounting controls and signing a false certification concerning the sufficiency of those controls.
“A company’s commitment to compliance is only as strong as the effort put in by senior management,” said Charles Cain, Chief of the SEC Enforcement Division’s FCPA Unit. “Here, the chief executive exploited weaknesses in the company’s controls to engage in bribery, undermining shareholder interests.“
The SEC’s order finds that Westport violated the anti-bribery, books and records, and the internal controls provisions of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and that Gougarty caused certain of Westport’s violations.
Westport violated, and Gougarty caused Westport’s violation of, Section 13(b)(2)(B) of the Exchange Act which requires every issuer with a class of securities registered pursuant to Exchange Act Section 12 to devise and maintain a system of internal accounting controls sufficient to provide reasonable assurances that (i) transactions are executed in accordance with management’s general or specific authorization; (ii) transactions are recorded as necessary (I) to permit preparation of financial statements in conformity with generally accepted accounting principles or any other criteria applicable to such statements, and (II) to maintain accountability for assets; (iii) access to assets is permitted only in accordance with management’s general or specific authorization; and (iv) the recorded accountability for assets is compared with the existing assets at reasonable intervals and appropriate action is taken with respect to any difference
Without admitting or denying the SEC’s findings, respondents consented to a cease-and-desist order. Westport also agreed to pay $2,546,000 in disgorgement and prejudgment interest and a civil penalty of $1,500,000, and Gougarty agreed to pay a civil penalty of $120,000. In determining to accept Westport’s offer, the SEC considered remedial acts undertaken by Westport concerning its anti-corruption and financial reporting compliance programs, and its cooperation afforded SEC staff.
Revisit your Code of Conduct. The SEC cited the fact Westport’s Code of Conduct omitted any reference to due diligence when engaging in a transaction with a third party in which a government official may have a financial interest.
Regarding overriding or circumventing internal controls, The PCAOB states that Management is in a unique position to perpetrate fraud because of its ability to directly or indirectly manipulate accounting records and prepare fraudulent financial statements by overriding established controls that otherwise appear to be operating effectively.
By its nature, management override of controls can occur in unpredictable ways. The PCAOB outlines several procedures to specifically address the risk of management override of controls. I highly recommend reviewing the procedures.
What is wanted is not the will to believe, but the will to find out, which is the exact opposite.” – Bertrand Russell, “Skeptical Essays,” 1928
Questions about professional skepticism – how to define it, how much is enough, what policies support it, and what practices diminish it – are perennial topics of concern among auditors and accountants. These topics also should be of concern to all stakeholders, including a company’s management, board of directors, and audit committee.
In any discussion of fraud detection and prevention, the phrase “trust but verify” is almost certain to come up. Regardless of how apt that concept might have been in the context of Cold War diplomacy, it could be argued that “trust but verify” is actually bad advice when it comes to deterring fraud in general.
In fact, “trust but verify” could be a downright dangerous approach when applied to audit procedures in particular. A much better slogan for fraud deterrence would be, “Trust is a professional hazard.”
Skepticism: It’s Everyone’s Job
Recently, the necessity of professional skepticism has been emphasized repeatedly. For example, in August 2013, Jeanette M. Franzel, board member of the PublicCompany Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB), said, “Our inspection results all too often show that substantial progress is needed in order to more consistently achieve the appropriate application of professional skepticism throughout the audit process and across audits. Additional efforts are needed to better understand how the framework of professional skepticism applies across varying audit situations.”
Months earlier, the PCAOB issued a staff audit practice alert on the topic, which included this cautionary note: “Observations from the PCAOB’s oversight activities continue to raise concerns about whether auditors consistently and diligently apply professional skepticism. Certain circumstances can impede the appropriate application of professional skepticism and allow unconscious biases to prevail, including incentives and pressures resulting from certain conditions inherent in the audit environment, scheduling and workload demands, or an inappropriate level of confidence or trust in management. Audit firms and individual auditors should be alert for these impediments and take appropriate measures to assure that professional skepticism is applied appropriately throughout all audits performed under PCAOB standards.”
It is not just auditors who must be concerned with maintaining appropriate professional skepticism. This point was stressed during a roundtable convened in April 2013 by the Anti-Fraud Collaboration, which comprises the Center for Audit Quality (CAQ), FinancialExecutives International (FEI), The Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA), and the NationalAssociation of Corporate Directors (NACD). The author participated in this program, which had the objective of bringing together some key players – corporate directors, financial executives, external auditors, and internal auditors – from all along the financial reporting supply chain to discuss each group’s expectations and understanding of the various players’ roles in deterring and detecting financial reporting fraud.
Boards, particularly audit committee members, must take care to exercise a skeptical approach to financial reports and supporting information.
A portion of the discussion focused on an initial survey of the four organizations’ members, which produced a number of surprising findings about the attitudes and opinions of the various stakeholders. The roundtable’s summary concluded, “A large majority of survey respondents believe that financial management has primary responsibility in deterring financial reporting fraud, with a smaller majority believing financial management is responsible for detecting financial statement reporting fraud.”
The implication is that because financial management plays a leading role in detecting financial fraud, it is incumbent on executives – not just auditors – to exercise appropriate levels of professional skepticism. Board members and particularly audit committee members also must take care to exercise a skeptical approach to financial reports and supporting information.
Tellingly, 42 percent of the internal auditors said that their organization exhibits more trust than skepticism. This is a particularly troubling admission considering the paramount role that professional skepticism – not trust – must play in auditors’ performance of duties.The Anti-Fraud Collaboration’s survey also revealed that the various stakeholders’ expectations and opinions about their organizations’ effectiveness in deterring and detecting fraud vary widely. When asked to rate his or her organization’s overall performance, an internal auditor was much less likely to say that his or her organization exhibits the appropriate balance between trust and skepticism. As shown in Exhibit 1, only 46 percent of those affiliated with the IIA said that their organization exhibits the appropriate balance of trust versus skepticism, compared to 58 percent of the financial executives (members of FEI), 70 percent of the external auditors (CAQ members), and 79 percent of the board members (affiliates of NACD) who responded.
Defining the Issue
An obvious early step in helping executives, boards, and auditors decide the appropriate balance between trust and skepticism in their organizations is to come to a general agreement on what professional skepticism really means. The auditing profession, as one might expect, has devoted considerable effort to defining the term.
The IIA, representing the internal audit profession with approximately 180,000 members worldwide, defines professional skepticism as “the state of mind in which internal auditors take nothing for granted; they continuously question what they hear and see and critically assess audit evidence.” PCAOB standards define professional skepticism as “an attitude that includes a questioning mind and a critical assessment of audit evidence.” It requires an emphasis on the importance of maintaining the proper state of mind throughout the audit.
Over the past 10 years, researchers have developed a theoretical model that views professional skepticism as a function of six fundamental characteristics, including a recognition that individuals might have different perceptions of the same information.
Defining skepticism and identifying its primary traits have also been the subjects of considerable academic and professional research in recent years. In November 2013, the Standards Working Group of the Global Public Policy Committee (GPPC), a consortium of large accounting firms, published a research paper on the topic. The publication, “Enhancing Auditor Professional Skepticism,” was written by professors Steven M. Glover and Douglas F. Prawitt of Brigham Young University. The paper’s stated purpose was to develop “a shared understanding of what professional skepticism is, how it should be applied, the threats to professional skepticism and the safeguards that may be cost effective.”
The authors noted at the outset that “the term ‘professional skepticism’ is widely used but may mean different things to different organizations and individuals.” The writers went on to suggest that “to move the dialogue on improving the consistent appropriate application of professional skepticism forward, it is important that a shared understanding be developed regarding what professional skepticism is, how it should be applied and documented in various situations, and how threats to professional skepticism manifest themselves at different structural levels.”
The GPPC research, like many other efforts, draws partly from academic work by Kathy Hurtt, Martha Eining, and R. David Plumlee. In a series of papers over the past 10 years, these researchers developed a theoretical model that views professional skepticism as a function of six fundamental characteristics:
A questioning mind: Not accepting information at face value but instead looking for evidence or proof to justify the information
Suspension of judgment: A propensity to withhold acceptance or rejection until all information has been found and considered
A search for knowledge: As evidenced by genuine curiosity and enjoyment of learning
Interpersonal understanding: Recognizing that individuals might have different perceptions of the same information
Self-confidence: Valuing one’s own insights and being willing to challenge the assumptions of others
Self-determination: The personal initiative to take action based on the evidence
This multidimensional view and a related 30-question survey the authors developed to provide an empirical measure of individual auditors’ relative skepticism have formed the basis of much of the academic research on professional skepticism over the past decade. This view also provides a useful explanation of characteristics and behavior that can be inherently difficult to measure objectively.
Ninety-four percent of board members were confident or highly confident that they exercise sufficient skepticism
An objective of all this research on professional skepticism is to help identify factors that prevent or discourage auditors – and others in the financial reporting supply chain – from developing and maintaining the appropriate level of skepticism. One of the most prevalent factors is simple complacency – as demonstrated by another response to the Anti-Fraud Collaboration’s survey.
As shown in Exhibit 2, survey respondents were asked to assess their confidence that the various groups responsible for deterring and detecting fraud in their organization were exercising a sufficient level of skepticism.
Of all the groups, board members (NACD members) were most complacent about the performance of responsible parties in their organization. They were almost unanimous (98 percent) in expressing confidence that their company’s internal and external auditors exercise sufficient skepticism. Ninety-four percent of board members were confident or highly confident that they exercise sufficient skepticism themselves.
On the other hand, external auditors (CAQ members) were much less confident in others’ performance. Only 73 percent of the CAQ’s respondents were confident or highly confident that financial executives exercise sufficient skepticism of financial results. External auditors viewed board members and audit committees almost identically to executives.
Internal auditors (IIA members) had roughly the same view of financial executives and even less confidence that board members and audit committees demonstrate appropriate skepticism in reviewing financial information. In other words, the views of internal and external auditors differ significantly from the views of executives and board members.
Other Impediments to Appropriate Skepticism
Complacency is only one attitude that could cause an executive, board member, or auditor to exercise insufficient skepticism when considering financial information. The GPPC’s research paper points out several natural tendencies that can lead to faulty judgment or weakened skepticism:
Overconfidence. Decision-makers must be careful not to overestimate their abilities and understanding of issues. Overconfidence can lead them to challenge statements, assumptions, and procedures insufficiently.
Confirmation bias. It’s natural to give more weight to information that confirms our opinions. This inclination can bias a wide variety of auditor judgments and cause executives and board members to see what they expect to see.
Anchoring. Anchoring is the tendency to start with initial values and data that are familiar. An auditor can be influenced inappropriately by the previous year’s account details, for example.
Availability. Information that is easily accessible (or available from memory) is often considered less relevant to a decision than information from alternative sources. As a result, auditors unconsciously might not apply the most relevant information to the audit.
In addition to personal biases, other challenges can inhibit skepticism. For example, an external auditor’s conflicts of interest and less-than-thorough understanding of the business are areas of legitimate concern.
One of the most significant challenges is deadline pressure. An auditor is naturally under substantial pressure to complete the work and issue the report promptly. A cunning fraudster can take advantage of the situation by initially diverting the auditor’s time and attention to areas that are unlikely to raise concerns and saving problematic areas until the engagement’s end, when time is short. Recognizing and resisting this tactic requires the application of professional skepticism – not only on the part of the external auditor but by the others involved in the process as well.
Beyond Audit: What Other Stakeholders Can Do
Although the GPPC’s research focused on auditors, the same observations – and the same potential weaknesses – apply to everyone in an organization who has the responsibility to detect or deter fraud, from executives with financial reporting responsibilities to the board of directors in general and members of the audit committee in particular. Ultimately, all these individuals have a direct interest in detecting fraud or misstatement and a responsibility to be on guard against complacency or other impediments.
The GPPC study’s authors noted, “While auditors can and must do better in their central role, we believe that a complete solution to the problem of enhancing auditor professional skepticism requires an approach that addresses threats at all structural levels and that involves all of the key stakeholders that share responsibility in enhancing the reliability of the financial reporting process.”
It is essential for all organizations to encourage clear, open communication among all parties concerned. The Anti-Fraud Collaboration’s report noted, “For the roles to operate well together, communication is critical.” The authors went on to advocate “open and candid conversation among the internal and external audit functions, financial management, and the audit committee, allowing for audit committees to perform their governance role with necessary transparency and realistic expectations.”
Beyond this general effort, all stakeholders can take a number of specific steps to encourage appropriate levels of professional skepticism, including the following –
Self-criticize each significant judgment. Make it a point to play the role of the independent reviewer or inspector, particularly of your own A professional skeptic continuously challenges his or her beliefs and belief-based risk assessments. Critical self-assessment is necessary to demonstrate to others why and how beliefs and assessments are justified.
Make an effort to resist complacency and other natural tendencies such as confirmation bias. Question whether you are placing undue weight on prior risk assessments or discounting evidence inconsistent with your with your expectations.
Be alert to Pressure. Pay particular attention to pressure to truncate risk assessment procedures or make unwarranted assumptions to beat time constraints. This step is especially important as deadlines approach.
Understand the sources of evidence. Identify and assess audit risks from multiple perspectives, using multiple sources of evidence,
Be aware of the relative reliability of various types of evidence. In general, documentation from internally generated documents – particularly those that are generated manually or not linked to other reporting systems – is less reliable as evidence than documents generated by external sources such as banks or suppliers. See graphic below.
If, as asserted at the outset, trust is indeed a professional hazard for auditors, then it follows that informed, knowledgeable skepticism is a professional asset. That principle applies not only to auditors but also to the board members and financial executives responsible for detecting and deterring fraud of all types, specifically financial reporting fraud. By challenging their own assumptions – and creating an environment in which such challenges are encouraged and supported – companies will not just deter fraud but make its detection more likely.
We just confirmed our first awesome speaker Niki A. den Nieuwenboer, Assistant Professor of Organizational Behavior and Business Ethics at The University of Kansas School of Business.
You all should know that leadership matters in fostering ethical conduct at work. However, the focus is often on top level managers and their “tone at the top.” The role of middle managers has remained somewhat of a mystery until now.
Niki den Nieuwenboer will lead a robust and enlightening discussion on her recent study that examined a case where middle managers, in response to upper management pressures, coerced front-line employees to deceive upper management about their performance.
She plans on spotlighting the creative role that middle managers played in finding ways to cheat, and discuss implications for ethics management and fraud prevention.
Stay tuned for more announcements about the symposium line-up and registration information as we round out the day!
As the use of whistleblower programs continues to grow, many organizations find themselves struggling to manage burgeoning caseloads. As a result, serious fraud investigations can be delayed (with mounting losses) while less consequential complaints are being investigated. The lack of a timely, systematic and repeatable process for evaluating and prioritizing whistleblower tips that contain allegations of ethical breaches can also expose an organization to increased regulatory risk. While there is no single, “right” method for following up on whistleblower complaints, the most effective approaches often resemble the medical triage programs that hospitals and first responders use to allocate limited resources during emergencies, or a crisis situation. Here are some useful guidelines for designing and implementing a fraud triage system.
The Growing Use of Whistleblower Programs
Despite extensive fraud detection measures, closer management scrutiny, and increasingly sophisticated technology, the most common fraud detection method is still the simplest: somebody notices something suspicious and decides to speak up. According to the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners’ (ACFE) 2018 Report to the Nations on Occupational Fraud and Abuse, 40.0% of the cases reported in their study were uncovered as the result of tips (usually from an employee, supplier, or customer) —more than internal audit 15% and management review 13% combined. The ACFE study also demonstrates that dedicated reporting hotlines are particularly effective. In organizations where such hotlines were in place, 46.0 % of the cases reported were uncovered through tips, compared with only 30.0% percent of the cases in organizations without hotlines. These results are consistent with patterns that have been recorded in the ACFE’s biennial survey since its inception 20 years ago. On a broader scale, as a matter of best practice, the COSO Internal Control–Integrated Framework, along with various other enterprise risk management (ERM) frameworks and guidance from Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA), also emphasize the importance of establishing and maintaining effective whistleblower programs.
In addition to their demonstrated effectiveness, whistleblower programs have also been promoted through recent regulatory actions. For example, one section of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act directs the Securities and Exchange Commission to make monetary awards to individuals who voluntarily provide information leading to successful enforcement actions that result in monetary sanctions over $1 million. A few years earlier, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 required the audit committees of publicly traded companies to establish procedures to enable employees to submit confidential, anonymous information regarding fraudulent financial reporting activities. Dodd-Frank and Sarbanes-Oxley are only two examples out of a broad range of laws that encourage – and often mandate – whistleblower programs. A 2013 study by the Congressional Research Service found no fewer than 40 federal whistleblower and anti-retaliation laws, designed to protect employees who report misconduct. Eleven of those 40 laws were enacted after 1999. On February 21, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court issued an opinion in Digital Realty Trust, Inc. v. Somers, a long-anticipated case that clarifies who is protected as a “whistleblower” under the Dodd-Frank Act’s anti-retaliation provisions. It states that to qualify as a “whistleblower” under Dodd-Frank, individuals now have a clear incentive to report all sorts of observations to the SEC before reporting those observations through their company’s internal reporting infrastructure. Now under Dodd-Frank an individual is only protected from retaliation if he or she has reported a potential violations to the SEC before he or she separates from the company. Such laws not only make whistleblower programs more common, they also make the timely resolution of tips even more critical, as we are about to explain.
There is momentum today to correct Dodd-Frank.
On July 9, 2019, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 2515, also known as the Whistleblower Protection Reform Act of 2019 (“WPRA”). The WPRA is designed to address a gap in the whistleblower protections afforded under the Dodd-Frank Consumer Protection and Wall Street Reform Act of 2010 (“Dodd-Frank”), as interpreted by the Supreme Court in Digital Realty Tr., Inc. v. Somers, 138 S. Ct. 767 (2018). Specifically, the Supreme Court in Digital Realty Trust ruled that the anti-retaliation provision of Dodd-Frank does not extend to protect employees who only make reports concerning violations of securities laws internally, as opposed to individuals who made a report to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”). The WPRA is designed to amend Dodd-Frank to ensure the statute’s protections extend to individuals who make internal reports of securities violations.
Responding to Tips – Why Timeliness Matters Dodd-Frank, Sarbanes-Oxley, and the various regulatory structures that were established to implement them are helping to mold a corporate environment where undervalued and underappreciated compliance professionals and in-house counsel are incentivized to “blow the whistle.” Such incentives can be helpful in creating a self-regulating environment, but they also make it essential that corporations establish a timely and effective process for remediating complaints. For example, to carry out its mandate under Dodd-Frank, the SEC established a separate Office of the Whistleblower, which has paid out more than $160 million to 46 whistleblowers in connection with 37 covered actions, as well as in connection with several related actions since it was founded in 2011. Three of the ten largest whistleblower awards were made by the SEC during FY 2017.
Under this program, there are exceptions if at least 120 days have passed either since the auditor (excluding external auditors who obtained the information during the audit of an issuer) or accountant properly disclosed the information internally (to their supervisor or to another person in the organization who is responsible for remedying the violation (i.e., the audit committee, chief legal officer, chief compliance officer, or their equivalents), or since they obtained the information under circumstances indicating that the entity’s officers already knew of the information. Then they can report the lapse directly to the SEC and be eligible for a sizable whistleblower award – from 10 percent to 30 percent of any fines or sanctions that are collected. The program’s website prominently features headlines such as “SEC Issues $17 Million Whistleblower Award” and “SEC Awards More Than $5 Million to Whistleblower,” to cite only two of many recent examples.Since the program’s inception, the SEC has ordered wrongdoers in enforcement matters involving whistleblower information to pay over $975 million in total monetary sanctions, including more than $671 million in disgorgement of ill-gotten gains and interest, the majority of which has been, or is scheduled to be, returned to harmed investors .With incentives like that, it should be no surprise that whistleblower complaints are on the rise. Yet in most cases, such awards would not have been available if the companies involved had resolved the initial fraud complaints within 120 days.Unfortunately, our experience indicates that, while many companies invest in tips hotlines and similar whistleblower programs, a large portion of them fail to invest adequately in an allegation review process for promptly evaluating, prioritizing, and responding to the whistleblowers’ tips in a systematic, repeatable, and defensible manner. As the number of tips grows and investigators’ caseloads expand, complaints end up sitting in a queue waiting to be investigated, while the company remains vulnerable to the risks the tipsters were warning about, and the SEC timeline is running.
A 2018 study of customers of the compliance software company NAVEX Global found that case closure times have blipped to 44 days and has dropped to 40 days according to their 2019 study. This metric is important given that, under certain agency whistleblower provisions, an organization will have limited time to complete an internal investigation.
Moreover, when the various categories of fraud are compared, cases involving suspected accounting, auditing, and financial reporting fraud took the longest to resolve by far – 55 days! In other words, the average case closure time for cases of suspected financial fraud was almost halfway to the 120-day deadline – the point at which employees are incentivized to report the case directly to the SEC and expose the company to additional, sizable sanctions.
Hidden and Direct Costs of Delayed Response Even setting aside potential SEC sanctions, delays in investigating whistleblower tips are costly in other ways. Delayed responses to tips can cause employees and other potential sources to lose confidence in the hotline or other whistleblower program, undermining the effectiveness of the the compliance and ethics program and adding further complexity to the risk management effort. Most companies expend considerable time, effort, and resources in creating compliance and ethics programs. Failing to establish a system for dealing with allegations or tips in a timely manner can mean those expenditures are probably wasted. There are also direct costs associated with delays in handling tips. The losses resulting from a fraud scheme are directly related to how long the scheme goes on. The ACFE’s 2018 Report to the Nations found that the median losses for frauds that were uncovered in six months or less was $30,000. But at the other end of the scale, schemes lasting more than five years caused a median loss of $715,000. Simply put, the longer perpetrators are able to continue, the more financial harm they are able to cause. Clearly, the absence of an effective program for handling whistleblower complaints promptly and effectively can have a significant and direct financial impact – in addition to the regulatory, employee relations, and reputational risks such a shortcoming entails.
A Triage Approach While there is no single, one-size-fits-all method for following up on whistleblower complaints, the most effective approaches are similar in many ways to medical triage programs, such as those implemented by hospitals and first responders during emergencies to help medical professionals prioritize the treatment of patients. In medical triage, those with serious, life-threatening injuries are treated ahead of those whose conditions are less severe. In the same way, a fraud triage program helps risk, audit, and fraud professionals prioritize the investigation of tips and whistleblower complaints. Those that indicate serious, material risks are addressed differently and more aggressively than those that reflect mere misunderstandings, minor errors, personal grievances, or false tips, all of which could tie up investigators unnecessarily. Under a fraud triage program, the same principles apply. Hotline tips or complaints that do not indicate fraudulent behavior can be delegated to human resources, IT, or other line or support functions that are capable of handling them more efficiently. Meanwhile, complaints that involve suspected fraud, but which are less significant in terms of financial losses, control failures or other risks, may be set aside temporarily while larger, more material cases receive immediate attention.
Proper Staging of the Allegation – the Critical First Step A swift and thorough triage process leads directly to a more appropriate and timely response. The specifics of that response will vary, of course depending on the nature and severity of the case, but the fundamental elements of the treatment include forming the right team to investigate, understanding root causes, and providing timely disclosure to all constituencies. Before such a response can be planned and executed, however, the tip or allegation must be evaluated or “staged” based on a consistent set of criteria. Navigant’s fraud governance framework identifies five such stages:
Stage 1 Stage1 allegations have a low threat level and do not suggest a breakdown of internal controls. Tips that get grouped into this stage do not have a financial or reputational impact. These may include employee-to-employee disputes, isolated cases of small-scale employee theft, and the normal policy complaints, misunderstandings, and personal disagreements that are often raised through a whistleblower program. In most cases, these complaints are best handled by human resources or management personnel.
Note: Human Resources and management should be trained on proper investigation protocols, including the escalation process. A basic level of review should be performed and documented to corroborate that no further investigation is warranted. This review and documentation could be performed by a branch or office manager. For an employee who is the target of such a complaint, management should consider placing such employee on a temporary legal hold which triggers the retention of email and other documents until the risk of retaliatory litigation has passed.
Stage 2 These allegations are more serious in nature, and often indicate some deficiency in the design of internal controls. Examples include business rule violations such as recurring employee theft or patterns of falsifying expense reports. If the allegation is substantiated, then the result of the remediation process is a change to a business process or business rule, followed by an enhancement of the company’s preventive or detective internal controls. Because they indicate a deficiency in internal controls, such allegations are escalated to the internal audit function in order to obtain a deeper understanding of the control environment. Internal audit should evaluate what controls are currently in place, and determine where the breakdown in internal controls occurred. It is also important to assess if the allegations are signs of a bigger problem or if they could have an impact on financial reporting. If financial reporting is affected, sensitivity testing must be performed to calculate the low case, medium case, and worst case financial impact. Internal audit’s review also might identify multiple violations. Again, the employees affected should be put into a legal hold which triggers the retention of email and other documents until the risk of litigation passes. In some cases, employee termination may be warranted.
Stage 3 These allegations are serious in nature, generally involve an override of internal controls, and thus are at a minimum a serious deficiency. But they have only a minimal impact on the financial statements or the company’s reputation. More serious allegations in this category include fraud, embezzlement, and bribery involving employees or mid-level management. Such cases require the same level of investigation as Stage 2 cases, along with an internal investigation that usually is conducted under the direction of the general counsel, involving compliance and internal audit as well. In some instances, the investigation might need to be performed independently by a function or person who is not directly involved in the control environment.
Stage 4 These are serious allegations that could have an impact on the completeness and accuracy of the audited financial statements, and that could indicate a material weakness in internal controls. They do not, however, appear to involve any member of the senior management team. Such cases are generally addressed through an internal investigation, usually under the direction of outside counsel operating under privilege. The investigation often involves the use of independent, outside experts as well.
Stage 5 These are serious allegations that involve one or more members of the senior management team, or are serious enough to damage the company’s reputation. The receipt of allegations in this stage usually place the company into crisis management mode, and could result in the restatement of audited financial statements or added regulatory scrutiny. In such instances, the board generally should engage outside counsel and forensic investigation experts to initiate a privileged and confidential fact-based investigation. The external auditors may also be involved and a disclosure to the SEC may be required. It’s important to note that, in both Stage 4 and Stage 5, engaging outside experts is generally necessary. Other critical elements of the Stage 4 and Stage 5 responses include having a qualified and experienced investigation team, along with a time-phased work plan that is minimizes disruptions to the organization’s day-to-day business as much as possible. The investigators will begin with fact-finding interviews to help them evaluate who else to interview and when. The investigators will also help the company identify a list of custodians who will be interviewed to understand where their data was being saved (for example, on email servers, mobile phones or other devices, flash drives, cloud servers, and network folders). Generally, a large-scale data collection effort will then ensue in order to search and preserve all potentially relevant information. The goal is to determine who knew what and when, and how high up the chain the knowledge went. The investigation will also assess if the audited financial statements be relied upon, so that counsel and board members can determine what disclosure requirements might apply. In addition, where internal control issues are noted, outside counsel can also recommend and assist in recommending new or enhanced policies, procedures, and controls.
Ownership, Responsibility and Follow-Up Obviously, the triage staging system described here is not the only plausible methodology an organization can use for evaluating allegations of wrongdoing and planning appropriate responses. Other thought leaders in the field have proposed evaluating tips according to various other criteria such as the severity of the allegation, the specificity of the information it contains, and similar factors. Ultimately, whatever triage process and framework is chosen it will need to be customized to reflect the company’s particular situation and its particular industry. In many instances, boards may choose to combine elements from several approaches.
Regardless of the specific criteria upon which the system is based, the importance of maintaining written policies and procedures cannot be overstated. Moreover, but in all cases it is important in all cases that the responsibility for developing, implementing, and maintaining the triage response system be clearly defined. The assignment of this responsibility will vary as well, depending on the size and nature of the organization, its governance structure, the volume of whistleblower complaints and other factors. It could fall to internal audit, the corporate general counsel, a board committee, a designee of the CFO, or some other person or group – but in all cases it’s essential to have a designated individual or business function that is responsible for initially capturing complaints and performing the triage o the allegation(s). Once the framework is set and data is being collected, it’s also important to step back and periodically assess what the data is saying. For example, if the complaint hotline is bombarded with a high frequency of inconsequential complaints related to minor personnel disputes uniform violations or employees complaining about having to work a holiday, then it may be time to provide additional training on how the complaint hotline is to be used. An increase in sexual harassment complaints or complaints related to substandard working conditions could be provide an early warning of a potential leading indicator for a class action lawsuit. Similarly, an increasing number reports of low dollar employee theft are usually signs of a larger cultural problem. Evaluating the data and trends captured in your complaint system can help you make decisions that could prevent the next “big event.” In that sense, an effective, well-designed, and consistently executed fraud triage effort can pay even bigger dividends that go beyond the direct benefit of helping you evaluate and prioritize tips and complaints more efficiently.
Lastly, as facts come to light, there might be a need to escalate the allegation. If an investigation starts with human resources or internal audit, they should be trained on what to do if the matter intensifies!
Matters that generally require escalation include, but are not limited to:
Violation of law – antitrust and competition, anti-bribery and corruption, employment discrimination and harassment, fraud against third parties by employees
Accounting, books and records – public financial reporting, internal financial reporting and disclosure, insider trading, SOx, Dodd-Frank
Environmental, healthy, safety
Any employee theft, misappropriation, or fraud against the organization in excess of $$$$$$$
Code of Conduct Violations of the Executive Leadership team
Misconduct by Legal, Ethics and Compliance employees – failing to investigate or stopping an investigation
Third party frauds against, or thefts from, the organization
Care should be taken and consultation with legal counsel and compliance is wise move, unless they are or appear to be involved, then go directly to the Board of Directors
Board members, I would seek to understand the escalation process and I would review the allegation log to ensure investigations are being done timely, you are being briefed on all serious matters, proper discipline has been applied, and internal controls are installed or enhanced to try to prevent and detect possible future bad or “carryover” behavior!
I welcome your comments and suggestions.
Jonathan T. Marks
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