Chris and I recently published a report describing how to build risk and compliance principles into your company’s corporate culture. As we worked to finalize, edit, and publish the report, a flurry of new corporate scandals emerged, all related to this topic.
Here are just a few of them:
Wal-Mart executives accused of trying to hush up bribery cases in Mexico (article here).
A whistleblower accuses Infosys of engaging in a systematic practice of visa fraud (article here).
A former Goldman Sachs employee writes an op-ed for the New York Times blasting the company’s ethics (article here).
JP Morgan suffers a $2 billion trading loss due to “poorly monitored” trades (article here).
Last week saw news that yet another top GRC software vendor has been acquired, following in the footsteps of Paisley, Archer, OpenPages, among others. BWise has always been an impressive vendor in the GRC space, so first off I think congratulations are in order for both parties.
That said, if you didn’t foresee NASDAQ getting into the GRC software space coming, don’t beat yourself up… after seeing the large technology vendors and content providers enter the space over the past 3 years, this wasn’t an obvious move. But looking a little deeper, NASDAQ’s move makes sense for a couple reasons:
- NASDAQ’s target market cares about GRC. NASDAQ lists its target roles as marketing/corporate communications, board and corporate secretary, investor relations, and corporate finance. All of these roles have a vested interest in better controls, stronger risk management practices, and improved corporate governance.
- BWise has always focused on the “G” of GRC. More than any other of the top GRC software vendors, BWise targeted governance professionals with capabilities such as entity management.
- There are immediate integration possibilities. Among NASDAQ’s corporate solutions are products for board management, whistleblower reporting, and XBRL filing. BWise has a host of capabilities (issue management, process management, policy management, reporting, etc.) that could quickly add value to implementations of those products.
But, as always with a deal like this, both parties will have to show the market how they will address some key questions:
If you had to go up one level in a train station, would you take the stairs or use the escalator? Most people would choose the escalator. But what if the staircase played musical notes like an interactive piano? This may change things, right? A couple of years ago, Volkswagen began sponsoring an initiative called The Fun Theory that tested the degree to which they could change people’s behavior for the better by introducing an element of fun. In one example, they found that by adding a unique element to the stairs – transforming it into an interactive piano – they were able to increase staircase use by 66%. You can watch the short video here.
You can apply this same principle to your training and awareness programs -- find your own piano staircase, and use it to begin guiding people to choose the right thing on their own. Chris and I have been working on a report that stresses the importance of organizational culture in the development of risk and compliance programs. Throughout the research process, we asked risk and compliance professionals and vendors in the space the same question: “How are you influencing and promoting positive behavior?”
You can create new technical controls and policies, and you can require employees to sign attestations all day, but these efforts have minimal value (or worse) when there’s no positive reinforcement. When compliance and risk management are considered obligatory tasks, rather than meaningful efforts that the company values, it diminishes the perceived importance of ethical behavior.
In my new report, The Risk Manager's Handbook: How To Measure And Understand Risks, I present industry best practices and guidance on ways to articulate the extent or size of a risk. More than the interpersonal, political, and leadership skills required of a risk management professional, defining how risks are measured and communicated is where I believe they prove their worth. If risk measurement techniques are too complicated, they may discourage crucial input from colleagues and subject matter experts... but if they are too simple, they won't yield enough relevant information to guide important business decisions. Great communication skills can only hide irrelevant information for so long.
This report includes factors to use in the risk measurement process, ways to present risk measurement data in meaningful ways, and criteria to use when deciding which of these methods are most appropriate. As always, your feedback is welcome and appreciated.
In addition, I will be covering a related topic with our Security and Risk Council in a session called Creating A High-Impact Executive Report along with my colleague Ed Ferrara at Forrester's upcoming IT Forum: Accelerate At The Intersection Of Business And Technology, May 25-27, in Las Vegas. Please join us if you can make it. Later in the week, I will be available for 1-on-1 meetings with attendees, and I'll also present sessions on linking goverannce and risk and establishing good vendor risk management practices. I hope to see you there.
There has been an interesting PR battle in Washington over the last few weeks about the number of massive regulations still on the administration's agenda. House Minority Leader John Boehner wrote a memo to President Obama citing a list of 191 proposed rules expected to have a more than $100 million impact on the economy (each!) and asking for clarification on the number of these pending rules that would surpass the $1 billion mark. The acting head of the Office of Management and Budget responded, saying that the number of "economically significant bills" passed last year actually represented a downward trend, and the current number on the agenda is more like 13.
For those of you wanting a little more clarification, you can search through the OMB's Unified Agenda and Regulatory Plan by economic significance, key terms, entities affected, and other criteria. Making sense of all of these proposed rules will take time, but it will help you get an idea of issues that your organization may have to face in the near future.
Coincidentally, my latest report, The Regulatory Intelligence Battlefield Heats Up, went live yesterday. In this paper, I offer an overview of different available resources to keep up with new and changing regulations as well as relevant legal guidance.
We all know that the war of fighting the proliferation of spreadsheets (as BI or as any other applications) in enterprises has been fought and lost. Gone are the days when BI and performance management vendors web sites had “let us come in and help you get rid of your spreadsheets” message in big bold letters on front pages. In my personal experience – implementing hundreds of BI platforms and solutions – the more BI apps you deliver, the more spreadsheets you end up with. Rolling out a BI application often just means an easier way for someone to access and export data to a spreadsheet. Even though some of the in memory analytics tools are beginning to chip away at the main reasons why spreadsheets in BI are so ubiquitous (self service BI with no modeling or analysis constraints, and little to no reliance on IT), the spreadsheets for BI are here to stay for a long, long, long time.
With that in mind, let me offer a few best practices for controlling and managing (not getting rid of !) spreadsheets as a BI tool:
Create a spreadsheet governance policy. Make it flexible – if it’s not, people will fight it. Here are a few examples of such policies:
- Spreadsheets can be used for reporting and analysis that support processes that do not go beyond individuals or small work groups vs. cross functional, cross enterprise processes
- Spreadsheets can be used for reporting and analysis that are not part of mission critical processes
I was able to catch pieces of live testimony in front of the House Financial Services Committee yesterday on the Lehman Brothers collapse (covered via live blog by the Wall Street Journal). It was interesting to watch former Lehman head Richard Fuld reluctantly attempt to explain to an understandably skeptical audience, “We were risk averse,” in the period leading up to the company’s collapse.
Meanwhile, Goldman Sachs is back in the spotlight after the SEC leveled charges of fraud against the company last week related to alleged misstatements and omissions in the marketing of specific financial products. While this seems like a relatively small initial shot at the large financial firms, the SEC appears to be reasserting its authority after a series of embarrassing stories have come out about failures of oversight including Madoff, Stanford, and now Lehman.
So what does all this mean for governance, risk, and compliance professionals?
It’s hard to tell what might come of the fraud charges against Goldman Sachs, but if anything, this appears to build a case for more rigorous compliance policies and manual oversight. It’s hard to see how automated controls could have helped here, but the case could involve substantial e-discovery to determine how certain marketing decisions were made.
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.