Theme from Shaft and Continuous Improvement of Your Compliance Program, Part I

by Thomas Fox
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Isaac HayesThe composer of what I believe to be the absolute coolest movie theme ever was born on this date in 1942, Isaac Hayes. Hayes continually succeeded in many areas. In the 1960s it was with soul music on the great label Stax. In the 90s it was as the voice of Chef on the animated TV series South Park. But for my generation it was for the theme song, and indeed entire soundtrack, to the movie Shaft that I will always remember Hayes for. The success of that soundtrack led not only to nearly four more decades in the public eye, but as I will never forget sight of Isaac Hayes, playing shirtless in heavy chains and sunglasses as he performed the #1 pop single “Theme from ‘Shaft'” on national television the night he was awarded the Academy Award for Best Score.

How Hayes continued to reinvent of himself as a performer informs my blog posts over the next two days as I look at continuous improvement in your Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) compliance program. Today, I will review the regulators view on continuous improvement and tomorrow I will provide some specific techniques that you can engage in to help satisfy this prong of the Ten Hallmarks of an Effective Compliance Program.

You should keep track of external and internal events that may cause change to business process, policies and procedures. Some examples are new laws applicable to your business organization and internal events driving changes within a company. Such internal changes could be a company reorganization or major acquisition. This type of review appears to be similar to the Department of Justice (DOJ) advocacy of ongoing risk assessments. The FCPA Guidance (Guidance) specifies, “a good compliance program should constantly evolve. A company’s business changes over time, as do the environments in which it operates, the nature of its customers, the laws that govern its actions, and the standards of its industry. In addition, compliance programs that do not just exist on paper but are followed in practice will inevitably uncover compliance weaknesses and require enhancements. Consequently, DOJ and SEC evaluate whether companies regularly review and improve their compliance programs and not allow them to become stale.”

Continuous improvement requires that you not only audit but also monitor whether employees are staying with the compliance program. In addition to the language set out in the FCPA Guidance, two of the seven compliance elements in the Federal Sentencing Guidelines (FSG) call for companies to monitor, audit, and respond quickly to allegations of misconduct. These three activities are key components enforcement officials look for when determining whether companies maintain adequate oversight of their compliance programs.

A review plan is an excellent tool for the compliance practitioner because it provides a method for the ongoing evaluation of policies and sets forth a manner to communicate and train on any changes that are implemented. More than simply staying current, this approach will help provide the dynamics that the DOJ continually talks about in keeping your program fresh. Lastly, such a review plan can also guide the compliance practitioner in creating an ongoing game plan for compliance program upgrades and updates that Stephen Martin advocates.

The Guidance makes clear that each company should assess and manage its risks and specifically notes that small and medium-size enterprises likely will have different risk profiles and therefore different attendant compliance programs than large multi-national corporations. Moreover, this is something that the DOJ and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) take into account when evaluating a company’s compliance program in any FCPA investigation. This is why a “Check-the-Box” approach is not only disfavored by the DOJ, but, at the end of the day, it is also ineffectual. It is because each compliance program should be tailored to the enterprise’s own specific needs, risks, and challenges.

One tool that is extremely useful in the continuous improvement cycle, yet is often misused or misunderstood, is ongoing monitoring. This can come from the confusion about the differences between monitoring and auditing. Monitoring is a commitment to reviewing and detecting compliance variances in real time and then reacting quickly to remediate them. A primary goal of monitoring is to identify and address gaps in your program on a regular and consistent basis across a wide spectrum of data and information.

Auditing is a more limited review that targets a specific business component, region, or market sector during a particular timeframe in order to uncover and/or evaluate certain risks, particularly as seen in financial records. However, you should not assume that because your company conducts audits that it is effectively monitoring. A robust program should include separate functions for auditing and monitoring. Although unique in protocol, the two functions are related and can operate in tandem. Monitoring activities can sometimes lead to audits. For instance, if you notice a trend of suspicious payments in recent monitoring reports from AsiaPac, it may be time to conduct an audit of those operations to further investigate the issue.

Your company should establish a regular monitoring system to spot issues and address them. Effective monitoring means applying a consistent set of protocols, checks, and controls tailored to your company’s risks to detect and remediate compliance problems on an ongoing basis. To address this, your compliance team should be checking in routinely with local Finance departments in your foreign offices to ask if they’ve noticed any accounting irregularities. Regional directors should be required to keep tabs on potential improper activity in the countries in which they manage. These ongoing efforts demonstrate that your company is serious about compliance.

The DOJ emphasized again with the 2011 Pfizer Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA), the need for a company to establish protocols for auditing. It included the following detail on auditing protocols:

  • On-site visits by an FCPA review team comprised of qualified personnel from the Compliance, Audit and Legal functions who have received FCPA and anti-corruption training.
  • Review of a representative sample (appropriately adjusted for the risks of the market) of contracts with and payments to individual foreign government officials as well as other high-risk transactions in the market.
  • Creation of action plans resulting from issues identified during the proactive reviews; these action plans will be shared with appropriate senior management and should contain mandatory remedial steps designed to enhance anti-corruption compliance, repair process weaknesses, and deter violations.
  • A review of the books and records of a sample of third party representatives that, in the view of the FCPA proactive review team, may present corruption risk. Prior to such an investigation, however, the company should have procedures in place to make sure every investigation is thorough and authentic, including document preservation protocols, data privacy policies, and communication systems designed to manage and deliver information efficiently.

Tomorrow, I will review some specific steps you can take to meet these goals.

For your listening pleasure, close your eyes and listen to the Theme From Shaft, by clicking here.

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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