Ethics and compliance had a terrific year in 2014. The profession is growing in response to increased demand from businesses that are “slowly” embracing the importance of ethics and compliance.
Whether or not there is a real commitment to ethics and compliance will depend on the old saying – “Put your money where your mouth is.” Compliance budgets are increasing – additional staff is being assigned, but outside the heavily-regulated industries like financial services and healthcare, the increase is relatively modest. That is a trend that has to change.
A company cannot “soft shoe” its way through compliance – they either are in or they are out, when it comes to a financial and cultural commitment. You can quickly tell when a company is committed and when a company is just giving compliance “lip service.”
An effective ethics and compliance program costs money – but the return is better than any investment a company can make. A culture of ethics can quickly move a company from neutral to a high gear where productivity and performance can improve. At the same time, the company can reduce its worries on individual risks when it has created a culture of compliance. Rather than responding to the risk of the day, the company can adapt its existing ethics and compliance program with improvements that have lower marginal costs than those risks that have to be addressed by a company with a deficient culture of compliance.
If you look back over the last few years, there are issues that are no longer on the table – no one (with any credibility) is arguing to preserve the old model of installing the compliance function in the legal office. That issue is resolved.
The next year should be an even bigger year for ethics and compliance. The significant trends will include:
Mid- and Small-Sized Companies – A robust ethics and compliance program will become more important to mid and small-sized companies. Most of the attention is this area has been focused on large companies and the design and implementation of effective compliance programs. Next year, this dynamic will begin to spread among smaller companies. For companies that expect to grow quickly, this will become an even higher priority.
CECO Role and Responsibilities – The role and responsibilities of a Chief Ethics and Compliance Officer is still being defined in many companies. I expect this year to see CECOs embrace even more responsibilities and assume a higher role in the corporate governance landscape.
CECO Movement Among Companies – CECOs tend to move around from company to company. Sometimes it reflects poorly on the company because the CECO’s decision to move may be in response to a company’s tepid commitment to ethics and compliance. Other times, CECOs can move for bigger and better opportunities.
CECO Professionalization – To many in the business world, the CECO profession lacks a professional discipline. The CECO profession needs to focus on this issue. Until there is more definition, business leaders are likely to resist the institutionalization of the compliance function in their organizations. As a result, business leaders will look for short-term results and improvements without recognizing the long-term investment and benefits of a robust ethics and compliance program and the profession that supports and promotes such a culture.
Technology – The compliance profession has to move from traditional measurements like number of complaints, training attendance and collection of compliance certifications. I have long criticized such a narrow view of the CECO’s role and performance. There is much more to the story – CECOs have to focus on risky interactions and culture. That requires new technologies for monitoring, auditing and surveying. This is where the cutting edge of the profession should be defined. Too many vendors are focusing on traditional measurements – they need to work with the compliance profession to define and support the new era of compliance metrics. That process will continue in 2015.