I had a few great conversations yesterday about the increasing role analytics will play in risk and compliance programs, which brought to mind the article, For Some Firms, a Case of 'Quadrophobia' appearing earlier this week in the Wall Street Journal and referenced yesterday by the NY Times’ Freakonomics blog.
The article covers a study of quarterly earnings reports over a nearly 30 year period, which found a statistically low number of results ending in four-tenths of a cent. The implication here is that companies fudge their numbers slightly to report earnings ending in five-tenths, which can then be rounded up... clever. Even more interesting, authors of the study found that these “quadrophobes” are “more likely to restate financials and to be named as defendants in SEC Accounting and Auditing Enforcement Releases (AAER)”... not clever.
The report encourages the SEC to enhance its oversight with a new department dedicated solely to detailed quantitative analysis that might catch this type of behavior. It also occurs to me that many corporations would like to identify such trends within their four walls to detect and prevent potentially damaging behavior.
Clearly, the cultural/human aspects of risk management and compliance – policies, attestations, training, awareness, whistleblowing, etc. – are essential. But as the number and complexity of business transactions continue to grow, companies will be looking more and more for ways to analyze massive amounts of data for damaging patterns and trends.
In my ongoing work with clients, I try as often as possible to stress the importance of flexibility in GRC programs. Internal processes and technology implementations must be able to accommodate the perpetually fluctuating aspects of business, compliance requirements, and risk factors. If GRC investments are made without consideration for likely requirements 1 to 2 years down the road, decision makers aren’t doing their job. And if vendors don’t offer that flexibility, they shouldn’t be on the shortlist.
News outlets over the past year have given us almost daily examples of change in the GRC landscape. The recent stories coming out of Davos have been no exception... giving us some truly fascinating debates on the necessity and detriment of regulations. As quoted in a Wall Street Journal article on Sunday, Deutsche Bank AG Chief Executive Josef Ackermann argued against heavy-handed regulation, saying, "We should stop the blame game and we should start looking forward... if you don't have a strong financial sector to support the this recovery... you're making a huge mistake and you will regret that later on," he said. French President Nicholas Sarkozy summed up the opposing argument in his keynote, explaining, "There is indecent behavior that will no longer be tolerated by public opinion in any country of the world... That those who create jobs and wealth may earn a lot of money is not shocking. But that those who contribute to destroying jobs and wealth also earn a lot of money is morally indefensible."
By the end of this year, we will likely all be sick of the phrase “systemic risk.” Referring to the complex and interconnected nature of risks that brought down the financial services sector, the phrase has been a focal point in the discussions on how to prevent such failures in the future. (And in my experience, this increased attention means that service and software vendors will be using the term in their marketing literature with increasing frequency in 2010.)
Policy makers are recommending systemic risk solutions such as new oversight bodies to assess for systemic risks or penalties for companies that are perceived to threaten the system. European Central Bank president Jean-Claude Trichet even suggested that financial institutions help avoid systemic risks by "putting aside their own profit" and being "moderate in remuneration behavior," in order to reinforce their balance sheets.
Details such as product integration and go-to-market strategy will trickle out slowly of course, but so far, this is a significant deal for a couple of reasons:
Archer fills a substantial void in EMC’s product offering, which included many elements of GRC, but no central platform to pull it all together.
EMC will introduce the Archer products to a much larger set of potential customers...most notably as a platform to manage security and compliance, but also to customers with requirements for related areas like vendor management or business continuity.
It brings another IT heavy-weight fully into the GRC space, with substantial engineering resources to work on product development (but only if Archer continues to be seen as a top priority within RSA).
As we watch this acquisition come together, as well as other upcoming announcements that will make the GRC space even more competitive, here are a few questions to consider:
It provides a well-written, step-by-step guide to risk management processes that can be applied to whole organizations, or any part thereof. So far, it has received well-deserved praise for its surprising brevity and consolidated value. These are especially important characteristics for a document with as lofty a goal as standardizing what it calls “an integral part of all organizational processes.”
But if we expect the availability of ISO 31000 to have any sort of revolutionary or game-changing impact in the immediate future, we’re getting way ahead of ourselves.
In its complaint, the SEC alleges that, “Madoff and his lieutenant Frank DiPascali, Jr., routinely asked (Jerome) O'Hara and (George) Perez for their help in creating records that, among other things, combined actual positions and activity from... market-making and proprietary trading businesses with the fictional balances maintained in investor accounts.”
The SEC further alleges that O’Hara and Perez tried to cover their tracks by deleting hundreds of files, withdrew hundreds of thousands of dollars from their investments through the company, told Madoff they wanted to stop helping him, and then accepted larger salaries and substantial bonuses for their promise to keep quiet.
It will be interesting to watch this case unfold. I was hoping it would get into issues of whether the IT professionals were considered just uninvolved support staff or key participants in the scheme. Considering the evidence SEC claims to have, I don’t think we’ll hear those arguments in this case, but keep an eye out for how the defense comes together. Fraud prevention is a growing area of concern for government, health care, insurance, financial services, and other industries... which means we could be seeing more cases questioning the responsibility of IT to identify and/or prevent such issues.
As GRC practices continue to gain traction, I’ve had a lot of great conversations lately with clients about the importance of peer interaction for professionals in governance, risk, and compliance roles. With his finger apparently on the pulse of all major technology trends, Forrester’s Josh Bernoff must see this as well. This week he announced the winners of the 2009 Forrester Groundswell Awards, with two top GRC vendors among the winners. (For those of you not familiar with Josh Bernoff or Groundswell, check out the book info here.)
The evaluation speaks for itself. Forrester goes through great pains to assure a fair, detailed process that looks into the strengths and weaknesses customers care about most — and this Wave is no exception. But considering the amount of time and effort we spent putting this report together, I wanted to provide some additional thoughts on what I learned during the process:
We are now approaching the half-way point of 2009, and most of us are still trying to figure out the nature and scope of regulations that will descend in reaction to the massive corporate failures of the last 9 months. Considering the hefty burden brought by Sarbanes-Oxley in reaction to — by comparison — less egregious issues, it’s no wonder risk and compliance professionals are waiting with nervous anticipation.
For those of you interested in why analysts write the reports they do and how they might have done things differently, our podcasts provide a behind-the-scenes look at what customer conversations, market trends, and other issues motivate our research.