Interview with Dick Cassin

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Ed. Note-we continue our interview series with thought leaders in the compliance and ethics field. Today we post an interview with the person I consider to be the Godfather of compliance and ethics bloggers-Dick Cassin, Editor of the FCPA Blog.

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1.      Where did you grow up and where did you go to college and law school? Can you tell us about anything from those experiences that led you into the field of compliance?

I was fortunate to grow up in a small town in the heart of New England. Keene, New Hampshire was (and still is) a beautiful place — with four seasons and nearby lakes, rivers, and mountains. It was also just a couple of hours from Fenway Park and the Boston Red Sox. I have wonderful memories of those years.

My dream from early on was to be a lawyer. I worked in Keene during my early teens for a very generous attorney, Ernest L. Bell, III. He had a small firm with all sorts and sizes of clients. I swept floors, delivered mail, bought pantry supplies, shoveled snow — and in between, I read case files and transcripts and watched Mr. Bell work. To me, it was the best job in the world. I stayed in New England for my schooling.

After law school, I started out in a big firm, practicing antitrust law. That experience eventually led to a job in the the oil industry, a big part of which was under investigation by the antitrust unit of the U.S. Justice Department. The antitrust issues went away but I stayed close to the industry.

That was during the early years of the FCPA. There were no real anti-corruption compliance programs then, and few professionals skilled in the field. It was all brand new.

I was fascinated by the FCPA — the idea that a U.S. law was meant to apply to behavior outside the United States, and even potentially to non-U.S. people and companies. It was amazing. And I thought corruption was always harmful. I was seeing a lot of it and the damage it was doing. So I admired the FCPA and its aims. From the beginning I wanted to help companies find practical ways to comply.


2.      You spent several years living and working overseas. Can you tell us what those positions were and how this work informed your ideas about compliance?

I worked in a lot of countries ruled by corrupt regimes — places with long histories and cultures of corruption. I know how hard it can be for expat and local employees to function in that environment. My sympathy is with them.

At the same time, corruption is really toxic. It distorts markets. It robs people of their tax money and strips them of their rights as citizens. People mired in red tape and corruption become depressed and hopeless, and for good reason. They can’t get medical care without bribing someone. Educating the kids requires bribes. Police will only protect bribe payers. It’s all bad.

I was a partner in a big law firm and I did a couple of stints in house for oil-industry related companies. Most of my time was spent overseas — in the Middle East, Russia, and Asia. I’ve enjoyed all of it.


3.      What is the reason you started the FCPA Blog and what do you hope to achieve with it?

My main professional interest is the FCPA — what it means, how to comply with it, how it’s enforced. That’s what I wanted to read about and talk about. But six years ago, there was no daily source of FCPA-related news and information. I started posting some ideas to share with clients and friends. And that eventually became the FCPA Blog.

My aim then was to deliver practical information accessible to anyone. That’s why the posts are written in plain English, and most are fairly short. That’s still the objective. But the scope has broadened. Posts now deal with any aspect of corruption, enforcement, and compliance. And the FCPA Blog is now a team project. I work with dozens of great people to produce the blog. It’s a wonderful job and there’s nothing else I would rather do.

4.      You have developed a group of compliance related resources such as ethixbase, FCPA Jobs, and others. Can you tell us how you came up with these resources and what they can provide for the compliance practitioner?

ethiXbase is the biggest anti-corruption compliance database in the world. The indexed materials in it — global gift-giving regulations, anti-corruption legislation, enforcement actions, and so on — are absolutely essential for any compliance professional. These are the primary resources I and my clients always needed most. So I wanted them to be widely available to anyone who wants them.

ethiXbase has also developed the first fully automated, cloud-based compliance-related communication platforms for use with employees and third-parties, such as vendors, agents, partners, and so on.

We’ve known for quite a while now what’s required by the DOJ and SEC for an effective compliance program. A lot of it depends on frequent, targeted communications to deliver policies, reminders, updates, alerts, and the like. But unless this can be done automatically and very cost effectively, it won’t be done at all. And that increases the risk of a compliance problem. The ethiXbase platforms exist to solve these problems.

The FCPA Jobs site is there to help companies find compliance professionals. And it’s a great place to look for a compliance-related position.

5.      You have worked in the compliance field for some time. What are the biggest changes that you have seen over this time period?

The biggest change is that there is now something we all recognize as the anti-corruption compliance field. It didn’t exist just ten years ago. Now thousands of people worldwide think of themselves as compliance professionals. And the field is exploding. So there’s truly a compliance community, which is a new development.

There are more compliance resources available today than ever before. ethiXbase is an example of practical tools to help companies of any size comply with the FCPA and related laws. Tom Fox’s writings and talks are wonderful resources where anyone can learn more about compliance. The press and media now regularly report FCPA-related stories. People from the DOJ, SEC, U.K. Serious Fraud Office, OECD, U.N., World Bank, the NGOs, and so on are talking about anti-corruption compliance and enforcement. That rarely happened just a five years ago.

All these changes have been driven by stepped up U.S. and global enforcement since around 2008. More enforcement has led to much more awareness of corruption and compliance.

There’s a clearer concept today that graft is bad, no matter where it occurs. Not long ago, serious people were still debating whether overseas bribery should be against the law. The argument advanced was often that bribery is a victimless crime. Now we know that’s never true and there is no good bribery. Its victims can be counted in the millions or billions. Grand or systematic corruption is even seen now in many places as a human rights violation. So the world’s attitude toward corruption has changed dramatically. And that attitude is the essential ingredient for changing how business is done.