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Risk Management

Many regulations have extended compliance programs beyond the borders of individual companies to related third parties. In particular, the supply chain has been subject to  additional rules and reporting and disclosure requirements.  Compliance officers must be wondering “where do I start?”

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It goes without saying that some of the main corporate compliance risks that have come into the limelight recently (bribery and corruption and privacy and information security come to mind) should remain a priority for 2013.  But here are a few short (and perhaps less obvious) resolutions that I might consider for 2013…

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In-house compliance experts from some of the world's leading companies, French and EU government spokespersons and key advisors gathered in Paris October 23-24 to share experiences and best practices for minimising third party risk:  an area where regulators around the globe are tightening their grip.

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It has long been claimed that an open corporate culture reduces compliance risk. This is based on the intuitive notion that if employees feel free to bring ethics and compliance concerns to management without fear of recrimination or retaliation, they are more likely to do so.  This willingness to discuss and report wrongdoing, in turn, should reduce the likelihood that potential bad actors will actually engage in harmful behaviors.

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I read with interest – and despair – the article in Sunday’s New York Times entitled “Vast Mexico Bribery Case Hushed Up by Wal-Mart After Top-Level Struggle: An Internal Inquiry Was Shut Down, and the Authorities Were Not Notified.”

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I spoke last time of the increasing application of cross-border regulation and the potential difficulties that imposes.   International (over)reach, though, is but one of the concerning regulatory behaviour patterns.

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In the last post, we contrasted the art and the science of risk management, coming down generally on the side of the artists.   The core skills and disciplines of both groups, as well as of their brethren in compliance, are especially in demand given the fairly recent trend of extraterritorial application of major pieces of regulation.   From a non-US, non-UK, perspective this can be an intensely time-consuming and worrying issue and it is from this perspective that I’m writing.

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Is risk management a science or an art? I suspect that those who take a rigorously quantitative and analytical approach will lean to the former, whilst the more qualitatively and subjectively minded will prefer the latter.

I nail my colours firmly to the qualitative mast, though not without the occasional appreciative genuflection to science.

Reservations about an overly quantitative approach are quite fundamental. If risk is, as the standards would have us believe, “the effect of uncertainty on the organisation’s objectives”, then risk management is all about uncertainty. Not the removal of uncertainty; rather an appreciation of the uncertainties surrounding the business and their potential effect.

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