The Tube and Updating Your Compliance Policies

by Thomas Fox
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2013 is the 150th anniversary of the London Underground, affectionately known as “The Tube.” It truly is one of the great urban architectural marvels of all-time. The oldest sections of the London Underground completed 150 years of operations on 10 January 2013. The Underground serves 270 separate stations and has 250 miles of track, 45% of which is underground. In 2011, it served over 1.2 billion riders but, like any transportation system, it has to be evaluated and upgraded. For my money, the most useful upgrade would be to air condition the cars as they can become unbearably hot in the summer but that may not be on the top of Prime Minister’s Cameron’s list about now.

I thought about this auspicious anniversary and maintenance of the London Underground when I read a recent article in the Compliance Week magazine by Michael Rasmussen, entitled “Improving Policies Through Metrics”. Rasmussen believes that effective policy management requires that a company must periodically review their policies to ensure that they are relevant and aligned with both current laws and corporate objectives. This is because today’s business environment is dynamic and involves both internal and external factors, so, consequently, as a company evolves and changes its policies need to be updated to reflect these changes.

One of the key components of any best practices compliance regime under any anti-bribery and anti-corruption program is policies. Policies tie together a company, its business environment, the risks it faces and the compliance requirements. Policies are a specific requirement for any anti-corruption/anti-bribery compliance regime. In the recently released Department of Justice (DOJ) Guidance on the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), it stated, “Whether a company has policies and procedures that outline responsibilities for compliance within the company, detail proper internal controls, auditing practices, and documentation policies, and set forth disciplinary procedures will also be considered by DOJ and SEC.” Under the UK Bribery Act, policies are discussed in the Six Principles of an Adequate Procedures compliance program under Principle V – Communication, where it states “The business seeks to ensure that its bribery prevention policies and procedures are embedded and understood throughout the company through internal and external communication, including training, that is proportionate to the risks it faces.”

While I think that most compliance practitioners understand this need for policies one of the things that is not usually emphasized at a company is effective policy management. One technique which can be used is to elevate the policy function to the senior management level. One of my former employers, Halliburton, did this when it created a Vice President for Policies back in 2006. So kudos to Halliburton for leading the industry by creating the position of Vice President for Policies.

Rasmussen believes that at a minimum, policies must be reviewed annually. He recommends that each policy should go through a yearly review process to determine if it is still appropriate. There should be a “system of accountability and workflow that facilitates” any policy review process. The end product should be a decision to “retire the process, keep the policy as it is, or revise the policy.” Rasmussen lists five items that a policy owner should evaluate as a part of the policy review process.

  • Violations. Here Rasmussen believes that information from reporting systems such as hotlines or other anonymous lines as well as internal or external investigations must be reviewed. Not only would such information indicate if a company policy was violated but the follow-up investigation would help to determine how the policy might have failed, whether it was through “lack of awareness, unauthorized exceptions [or] outright violations.”
  • Understanding. Here Rasmussen writes that there should be an analysis of “training and awareness programs, policy attestations” and attendant metrics to determine an appropriate level of policy understanding. He believes that questions to a helpdesk or compliance department could help to discover any ambiguities in a policy that might need to be corrected.
  • Exceptions. If you have a policy it should be followed. If an exception to a policy was granted the reason for the exception should have been documented. If there are too many exceptions granted for a policy, it might indicate that “the policy is inappropriate and unenforceable” and therefore should be revised.
  • Compliance. A policy should govern and authorize internal controls. These internal controls should be reviewed in conjunction with the policy review to determine overall policy effectiveness. This is because “At the end of the day the policy needs to be complied with.”
  • Environment. All the factors around a policy are in flux. This includes a company’s risk profile, its business strategy, laws and regulations. Since a business’ climate is dynamic, a policy should be reviewed in the context of a company’s overall situation and revised accordingly.

If there is a change in a policy it is important that not only the correct change be made but that any change is documented. An audit trail is a key component for a company to internally understand when a change is made and the reason for that change but also to demonstrate to a regulator effective policy management and to present “a defensible history of policy interactions on communications, training, acknowledgements, assessments and related details needed to show the was enforced and operational.” This audit trail should include “key data points such as the owner, who read it, who was trained, acceptance acknowledgements and dates for specific policy versions”. In addition to an audit trail, policy revisions should be archived for referral back at a later time. So, once again, the key message is document, document and document.

Just as best practices in the FCPA compliance arena evolve, so do business practices, markets and risks. If you throw in the complexities from an inter-connected global business milieu, the task becomes even tougher. Business policies are one of the keystones of a company’s communications to its employees on what it expects and what is required of its employees. To keep policies up-to-date and properly take advantage of this valuable tool, policies need to be evaluated and updated as appropriate. If your company fails to do so this takes away from the value of having policies in the first place. I hope that you will use the techniques which Rasmussen has described to help you effectively manage your policies going forward.

 

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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