Risk Assessments-the Cornerstone of Your Compliance Program, Part I

by Thomas Fox
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7K0A0079Yesterday, I blogged about the Desktop Risk Assessment. I received so many comments and views about the post, I was inspired to put together a longer post on the topic of risk assessments more generally. Of course I got carried away so today, I will begin a three-part series on risk assessments. In today’s post I will review the legal and conceptual underpinnings of a risk assessment. Over the next couple of days, I will review the techniques you can use to perform a risk assessment and end with a discussion of what to do with the information that you have gleaned in a risk assessment for your compliance program going forward.

One cannot really say enough about risk assessments in the context of anti-corruption programs. Since at least 1999, in the Metcalf & Eddy enforcement action, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) has said that risk assessments that measure the likelihood and severity of possible Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) violations identifies how you should direct your resources to manage these risks. The FCPA Guidance stated it succinctly when it said, “Assessment of risk is fundamental to developing a strong compliance program, and is another factor DOJ and SEC evaluate when assessing a company’s compliance program.” The UK Bribery Act has a similar view. In Principal I of the Six Principals of an Adequate Compliance program, it states, “The commercial organisation regularly and comprehensively assesses the nature and extent of the risks relating to bribery to which it is exposed.” In other words, risk assessments have been around and even mandated for a long time and their use has not lessened in importance. The British have a way with words, even when discussing compliance, and Principal I of the Six Principals of an Adequate Compliance program says that your risk assessment should inform your compliance program.

Jonathan Marks, a partner in the firm of Crowe Horwath LLP, said the following about risk assessments in his 13-step FCPA Compliance Action Plan, “A comprehensive assessment of the potential bribery and corruption risks – both existing and emerging risks – associated with a company’s products and services, customers, third-party business partners, and geographic locations can serve as the basis for the compliance program. The risk assessment determines the areas at greatest risk for FCPA violations among all types of international business transactions and operations, the business culture of each country in which these activities occur, and the integrity and reputation of third parties engaged on behalf of the company.”

The simple reason is straightforward; one cannot define, plan for, or design an effective compliance program to prevent bribery and corruption unless you can measure the risks you face. Both the both the US Sentencing Guidelines, the UK Bribery Act’s Consultative Guidance list Risk Assessment as the initial step in creating an effective anti-corruption and anti-bribery program.

What Should You Assess?

In 2011, the DOJ concluded three FCPA enforcement actions which specified factors which a company should review when making a Risk Assessment. The three enforcement actions, involving the companies Alcatel-Lucent SA, Maxwell Technologies Inc. and Tyson Foods Inc. all had common areas that the DOJ indicated were FCPA compliance risk areas which should be evaluated for a minimum best practices FCPA compliance program. Both the Alcatel-Lucent and Maxwell Technologies Deferred Prosecution Agreements (DPAs) listed the seven following areas of risk to be assessed.

  1. Geography-where does your Company do business.
  2. Interaction with types and levels of Governments.
  3. Industrial Sector of Operations.
  4. Involvement with Joint Ventures.
  5. Licenses and Permits in Operations.
  6. Degree of Government Oversight.
  7. Volume and Importance of Goods and Personnel Going Through Customs and Immigration.

All of these factors were reiterated in the FCPA Guidance which stated, “Factors to consider, for instance, include risks presented by: the country and industry sector, the business opportunity, potential business partners, level of involvement with governments, amount of government regulation and oversight, and exposure to customs and immigration in conducting business affairs.”

These factors provide guidance into some of the key areas that the DOJ apparently believes can put a company at higher FCPA risk. These factors supplement those listed in the UK Bribery Consultative Guidance states, “Risk Assessment – The commercial organization regularly and comprehensively assesses the nature and extent of the risks relating to bribery to which it is exposed.” The Guidance points towards several key risks which should be evaluated in this process. These risk areas include:

  1. Internal Risk – this could include deficiencies in
  • employee knowledge of a company’s business profile and understanding of associated bribery and corruption risks;
  • employee training or skills sets; and
  • the company’s compensation structure or lack of clarity in the policy on gifts, entertaining and travel expenses.
  1. Country risk – this type of risk could include:

(a) perceived high levels of corruption as highlighted by corruption league tables published by reputable Non-Governmental Organizations such as Transparency International;

(b) factors such as absence of anti-bribery legislation and implementation and a perceived lack of capacity of the government, media, local business community and civil society to effectively promote transparent procurement and investment policies; and

(c) a culture which does not punish those who seeks bribes or make other extortion attempts.

  1. Transaction Risk – this could entail items such as transactions involving charitable or political contributions, the obtaining of licenses and permits, public procurement, high value or projects with many contractors or involvement of intermediaries or agents.
  2. Partnership risks – this risk could include those involving foreign business partners located in higher-risk jurisdictions, associations with prominent public office holders, insufficient knowledge or transparency of third party processes and controls.

Another approach was detailed by David Lawler, in his book “Frequently Asked Questions in Anti-Bribery and Corruption”. He broke the risk areas to evaluate down into the following categories: (1) Company Risk, (2) Country Risk, (3) Sector Risk, (4) Transaction Risk and (5) Business Partnership Risk. He further detailed these categories as follows:

  1. Company Risk-Lawyer believes this is “only to be likely to be relevant when assessing a number of different companies – either when managing a portfolio of companies from the perspective of a head office of a conglomerate or private equity house.” High risk companies involve, some of the following characteristics:
  • Private companies with a close shareholder group;
  • Large, diverse and complex groups with a decentralized management structure;
  • An autocratic top management;
  • A previous history of compliance issues; and/or
  • Poor marketplace perception.
  1. Country Risk-this area involves countries which have a high reported level or perception of corruption, have failed to enact effective anti-corruption legislation and have a failure to be transparent in procurement and investment policies. Obviously the most recent, annual Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index can be a good starting point. Other indices you might consider are the Worldwide Governance Indicators and the Global Integrity index.
  2. Sector Risk-these involve areas which require a significant amount of government licensing or permitting to do business in a country. It includes the usual suspects of:
  • Extractive industries;
  • Oil and gas services;
  • Large scale infrastructure areas;
  • Telecoms;
  • Pharmaceutical, medical device and health care;
  • Financial services.
  1. Transaction Risk-Lawyer says that this risk “first and foremost identifies and analyses the financial aspects of a payment or deal. This means that it is necessary to think about where your money is ending up”. Indicia of transaction risk include:
  • High reward projects;
  • Involve many contractor or other third party intermediaries; and/or
  • Do not appear to have a clear legitimate object.
  1. Business Partnership Risk-this prong recognizes that certain manners of doing business present more corruption risk than others. It may include:
  • Use of third party representatives in transactions with foreign government officials;
  • A number of consortium partners or joint ventures partners; and/or
  • Relationships with politically exposed persons (PEPs).

There are a number of ways you can slice and dice your basic inquiry. As with almost all FCPA compliance, it is important that your protocol be well thought out. If you use one, some or all of the above as your basic inquiries into your risk analysis, it should be acceptable for your starting point.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Thomas Fox, Compliance Evangelist | Attorney Advertising

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