Notes From the Road

Bringing technology to the COI conversation, and how it makes disclosures better

Editor’s Note: Fresh Perspectives is an exclusive series of The Compliance Report that features expertise across Convercent. Each week we will feature a different Convercent expert, capturing their opinion and unique voice. Fresh Perspectives will be published weekly on Friday’s. 

I have an insatiable drive to make things better. As Convercent’s Chief Product Officer, I approach almost everything I do from a micro and macro level applying the same question to each deliverable: “How can we make this even better?” It’s a part of my DNA to never settle for good enough.

I am writing this post from Prague, where I am enjoying conversations with many compliance professionals, on a broad range of topics. One that is front of mind for a majority of the people I talk to is how to make their COI program more effective. So I thought I would take a moment to post this note so others can benefit from the discussions we have had.

As a compliance professional, you spend a lot of time on the road meeting with employees and putting a human face to compliance as well as educating them on doing the right thing with their helpline and with their Conflicts of Interest program.

When you do this, you always see an uptick in reports from the employees that participate. It may be slight, but any movement is a good thing. However, imagine how much greater that uptick would be if you could send a targeted COI disclosure campaign to those attendees immediately after the meeting — just to them, and only presenting them with the types of disclosures that you recently educated them on. So now, rather than using an annual generic COI campaign scattered widely across the organization, you can leverage technology to target those people that have just been educated on the merits and methods of the process – the very people most likely to now share any COIs that they may be aware of.

It’s a common practice to do “the annual survey.” Yet, there are many problems starting with the general concept. First, it’s only collected once every 365 days, at which point it’s old; out of date — and becoming less useful with every passing day. That data would be a lot more useful if it was most up-to-date with current disclosure activity, evolving on a daily basis, giving you real-time visibility into the evolving risks in your organization. Second, it’s a survey. If you are still sending out paper or online questionnaires to your employees asking them to disclose any conflicts on an annual schedule, you are missing an incredible opportunity to uncover real risk in your organization. Third, its generic, you ask the same set of questions to everyone in your organization, or worse yet, you only send it to a handful of senior execs and board members and remain blind to the risks being created by the remainder of your company.

Your COI program and overarching compliance strategy need a glimpse into modernization. Your hotline only returns a small number of reports for one part of the organization, but when done well, a COI survey touches everyone in the company. It is a powerful tool that can be used to surface real intelligence about the risks you are attempting to protect your organization from. Our clients are showing that they get on average 30 disclosures for every 100 employees. This body of data, which on paper would be intimidating, with technology becomes a rich source of insights and analytics.

Another common problem in improving any COI program is a lack of data. As a technologist for a software firm, I’m always cognizant of the opportunity presented by mining data. As a compliance officer, the emphasis on data may be intimidating and uncertain due to lack of experience working with or finding the right kind of data. It’s easy if you mentally distill data into two buckets:



Unstructured data helps you collect detailed information from your employees to make the most well-informed decision possible about clearing that disclosure. It presents the employee with an easy and open way to tell their story. Structured data, while helpful in addressing each individual disclosure, provides value in the long run by allowing you to report on trends across a set of disclosures over time, employee groups, business units, etc.

When you think about it, the natural inclination would be to disclose something so personal, and potentially problematic, in person. Indeed, though we’re being careful to distinguish disclosures from incident reports, the trend of the latter still shows a predominantly face-to-face process. So the challenge then becomes how to make your employees comfortable enough with an automated process to reduce the need for a face-to-face meeting, encourage the act of disclosure, and thereby increasing the number of validated disclosures?

So data-driven, real-time and up-to-date data all drive toward better insights, greater understanding and lower risk.

Never settle for good enough. Take a note from my book. Take a good hard look at your compliance program and ask yourself, How can this be even better?

For more insights, register for our webinar:

WEBINAR: Don’t Let the Tail Wag the Dog

How to Manage Conflicts of Interest and Mitigate Compliance Risk
March 30, 2016 at 1 p.m. EDT

This interactive session will help you get to the bottom of each issue and features experts from Forrester ResearchConvercent and USAA to present:

– Types of Conflicts of Interest and the risks they create
– What a well-designed COI management program looks like
– How to elicit, review, clear, monitor and manage disclosures of COIs
– Building the case (and budget) for COI management
– Reporting on results to proactively mitigate misconduct