The Front Line of Business: Compliance teams are essential workers

Cross-functional communication, teamwork, and commitment to existing controls will protect your company through this phase and beyond

Do you see compliance as a mission-critical function within your company? More importantly—does your leadership see it that way? This month, Convercent Chief Strategy Officer Philip Winterburn moderated a Compliance Week panel making the case that “Compliance Teams are Essential Workers.” Panelists from a variety of backgrounds and industries discussed why compliance pros are at the very center of the transition to a new normal and shared their key takeaways on how to handle the next phase of COVID-19 response.

Key themes of the panel included cross-functional communication and teamwork, plus how to make the case for your team, including stronger budgets and increased influence. Keep reading for a summary of the key takeaways from each panelist, and click here to read a detailed recap of the panel from Compliance Week’s Aaron Nicodemus.

Tiffany Archer, Regional Compliance Officer, Corporate Counsel (Americas & Europe), Panasonic Avionics Corporation

Compliance Is a Revenue Protection Center: Traditionally compliance is viewed as a cost center, but in reality, it’s a “Revenue Protection Center.”  Allowing an organization to reasonably allocate funds to needs identified during post-pandemic risk assessments will allow for more efficient risk mitigation, and therefore help to shield revenue from impacts such as investigations, enforcement, and more.

Virtual Operationalization of Controls: Cross-functional communication is integral to manage challenges or risks that may emerge in light of the pandemic.  To effectively run a compliance program virtually, and implement operationally effective controls, the organization’s control framework has to be agile and fluid. Synergies with key functions such as IT, Finance, Audit, Finance, etc. are essential as the organization may need to leverage technology and data in ways that were not anticipated.  All policy changes impacted by control adjustments must be documented with an appropriate justification.

Mike Ward, Partner, Vinson & Elkins

Keep Calm and Carry On: Unless you are in a company where all of your business model has been changed, you should worry less about everybody else and focus you and your team on the disciplined execution of your controls and avoiding the pressure to grant policy exceptions and make “diving catches” just because of the crisis.

Be alert to what will be uncovered as the tide goes out. In any and every economic downturn, past sins and frauds are always exposed, a la Bernie Madoff. It will be true this time as well.

Will Simmons, Head of Global Investigations and Associate Director, Global Ethics Compliance, Lonza Group

Leverage relationships for continued operations: Partner with audit services, finance, procurement, and other teams that may have reduced workload because of COVID-19 issues, and see where support can be provided such as T&E review, third party review, etc.

Ruthless prioritization: Assess what current projects are “on hold” do to COVID-19; re-stratify projects that had a 6/12/18 month start time and see if build work can be done in lieu of paused projects so when things go “back to normal,” legwork is done and you are able to speed timeline.

Philip Winterburn, Chief Strategy Officer, Convercent

The moments that stood out to Philip came from the panelists themselves:

“The exceptions you grant today will be judged in the harsh light of hindsight,” said Mike Ward. “Have your team focus on your regular blocking and tackling, and keep your head about granting exceptions, and you likely can steer your company through this crisis by sticking to the routine execution of your controls.”

Tiffany’s three Cs: Communication, collaboration, and commitment: “Having the three Cs as part of the focus will facilitate being able to identify those risks…and be able to give meaningful guidance and advice and steer the company through uncharted territory. So when regulators look back at exceptions that have been granted, we will be able to have that papered appropriately.”

“Moments like these separate the good leaders from the weak ones,” Will Simmons pointed out. A pressure test like the one we’re currently facing doesn’t just expose poor leadership; it also reveals past misconduct. Shrinking budgets may very well reveal fraud that’s already taking place.

For more on the panel and its conclusions, read the full recap from Compliance Week’s Aaron Nicodemus.