One of my weekend reading pleasures is the Saturday section in the Financial Times (FT) entitled “Lunch with the FT”. Each week, this column highlights a weekly interview with leading cultural and business figures. In addition to an excellent interview with fascinating people, the column discusses the food served and lists the prices of all items purchased. The column is so smartly done that even the Men In Blazers talk about it in their weekly podcasts on all things soccer.
Since imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, today I will inaugurate a “Lunch with FCPA Compliance and Ethics Blog” series of posts. While it will not be a weekly feature, nor will I detail the costs for lunch, I will commit to you the cost will be in line with that of a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) or UK Bribery Act compliance program business entertainment lunch. My inaugural guest is Phil Wedemeyer, who is a retired former partner of a Big Five accounting firm (when there was a Big 5); the former Director of the Office of Research and Analysis at the Public Company Oversight Accounting Board and currently sits on the Board of Directors of two corporations; one public, where Phil is the Chairman of the Audit Committee, and one private. As you might guess from someone with such a professional background, Phil tends to view things through the prism of an audit perspective.
This week Phil and I sat down for a couple of Houston’s finest cheeseburgers to catch up. Phil asked me what might be happening on the FCPA front and I told him that I thought the news about the National Security Agency (NSA) information collection programs was going to make the job of the compliance practitioner more difficult. Many of America’s allies are up in arms over not only the collection of information but the revelation that such collection of information can be used in monitoring FCPA compliance across the globe. I think this will mean that companies will face greater data privacy laws and have more difficulty not only getting information out of foreign countries and into the US for evaluation but even in collecting types of data and information.
Great Board Oversight Required?
Phil had another take on it, which I found equally interesting. He questioned whether this information about the US government could put an additional burden on not only the compliance practitioner but on a board of directors? When I asked him what he meant by this, he questioned if a company had reliable information that the US government was employing oversight techniques to search for evidence of bribery and corruption (or non-compliance with other laws or regulations) beyond more traditional law enforcement techniques (e.g., whistleblowers, self-disclosure and competitor reporting); should this cause that company to increase its oversight of compliance with the FCPA? In particular, more comprehensive government monitoring activity could increase the chances of discovery of the types of illegal activities at lower levels of the company that is one of the primary objectives of whistleblower procedures and that may not always be known to upper level management. Further, if so, would this change in risk put a director on notice that they need to perform additional oversight of the compliance function?
Phil also inquired about any trends that I might have seen over the past six to 12 months on FCPA enforcement. I told him that one of the things I have seen is the introduction of transaction monitoring, beginning with the Morgan Stanley declination. I then discussed the Eli Lilly enforcement action and particularly the bribery scheme used in Poland where charitable contributions were made to a charity run by the head of a provincial health service. This led to sales spiking in that province rather dramatically. These cases, and some others, have led me to advocate that companies engage in transaction monitoring from the compliance perspective to identify any anomalies.
Phil’s observation here was once again based on his auditing background. He said that, in considering variations in operating results as a director, he asks two questions of management: What happened and how do you know? In answering these questions, it is clearly important that management understands the business cause of significant sales increases and that there could be other issues involved in the situation that may require consideration by the compliance practitioner. Phil thought analysis of variations needs to occur at the level at which the sales increase was material. As an example, he conjectured that, in the Lilly scenario, such a sales spike would likely not be material to the company’s consolidated financial statements or, for that matter, to the European business unit. However, such a sales increase would most probably be material for the country of Poland and certainly for the province in which the sales increase occurred.
Once the material level is determined, direct questions should be asked and answered at that level. Explanations of a sales increase as being the result of the appointment of a new head of business development or a more aggressive sales manager should not simply be taken at face value. Questions such as what techniques were used; what was the marketing spend; how much was spent on business entertainment or other specific categories; were charitable donations made to any non-core business charities and other questions might help to get at the true underlying reason for a sales spike. Further, a company should review its findings in subsequent periods for confirmation. So, for example, if a sales increase legitimately appears to be due to the efforts of a new person in the territory or region, is that same increase sustained in later periods. The answer to such a question might identify red flags indicating the need for further review.
One of the key things that I learned from my lunch is the need for the compliance practitioner to talk to other non-compliance professionals to get their perspectives on how they view issues. So, just as I had lunch with Phil Wedemeyer, you could take out the head of your internal audit group for a lunch and chat; or HR; or IT. The list of possibilities is lengthy. I hope that you have enjoyed my inaugural, Lunch with the FCPA Compliance and Ethics Blog as much as I have bringing it to you.