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Q&A at the ECEC 2021: What Were The Most Popular Questions?

In the wake of the ECEC 2021, we are providing an overview of the most popular questions asked by attendees and the answers provided by our speakers.

by Niall McCarthy 5 min

The innovative live format of the recent European Compliance and Ethics Conference enabled the event’s audience to directly engage with speakers and panel session participants. Attendees tuned in from all over the world and put their questions to a whole host of compliance and ethics experts.

The Q&A aspect of the conference was a fascinating dynamic as speakers responded to range of questions sent in by compliance experts, legal staff and management. Ranging from the greatest future challenges for compliance to eliminating bias against whistleblowers, we have assembled the ten most popular questions, in no particular order, as voted by the audience at ECEC 2021. Keep scrolling to take a look!

“Do you think business schools are turning out graduates with the right ethical values?”

Catherine de Dorlodot (Govern&Law): I don’t think it’s a matter of business schools. For me, my kids are in business schools today. They are very much concerned about circular business models and the environment. They are much more focused on stakeholder values. Definitely, business schools are bringing people to the working floor who are very well trained. The thing is: it is important to remember when you are in a company, you are very much focused on what you need to achieve, the objectives you receive. It is sometimes more regarding the incentives in a company where you have to think about it. I was confronted with a company where attitude was part of the evaluation but nobody was ever fired for the wrong attitude if they were achieving the best results. So that’s where the limit comes in. So, lead by example and make sure the context is there.

Session: Myths in the Boardroom

“How do you deal with the impression that compliance procedures are often viewed as an extra burden on company innovators? The bottom line of the heroic journey is that the hero ignores rules to find a solution…”

Caroline Franco (Boehringer Ingelheim): It is a good question. Clearly standard operating procedures are the most common activity we do. Because of that, it is easier to do more repetitive tasks. This makes more time for innovators and to speak with them and to exchange with them. Ok you have a great idea? We can decide how to do it, how to tackle it. So we hope they come to us for a solution because they are a solution for innovation and we do not want to block that, of course.

Session: Compliance Blockbuster – How To Engage People For Even The Most Complex Compliance Topics

“You said that German companies report the highest number of violations which you labelled as “negative” in comparison to the other countries. I was wondering whether this can be interpreted as an indicator for a functioning speak up culture in German companies?”

Helene Blumer (EQS Group): The question is always: what is the goal of the whistleblowing system? Do you want to receive many reports or only a small share of reports? Here we always favor the goal of receiving many reports through the whistleblowing system so I would still assume that there is work for the German companies here. Usually it is communication issues – communicate the whistleblowing system widely and often to many stakeholders. Open it up to many stakeholders. State clearly what you can report – this is something we have analysed in our last report. And the better you do that the more you do that, the more this number will come down.

Session: Official Launch of the Whistleblowing Report 2021

Download the full Whistleblowing Report 2021

“Whistleblowers in Europe are still not effectively protected and they often lose their job and have problems to find a new employer as a result of whistleblowing. Does this show the unconscious bias of employers towards whistleblowers?”

Dr. Klaus Moosmayer (Novartis): Great question! The topic of whistleblowers – there is a lot of unconscious bias regarding whistleblowers. I mean, even the word whistleblower. If we reflect on the word…is this a word that even adequately describes the value of people who have concerns who want to speak up? Therefore, at Novartis, we talk about the speak-up office. We want to have people who speak up. It is of course a duty of the company to try and protect whistleblowers or speak-up colleagues as much as we can. But we have to be honest: we can’t give 100% protection. I will give a classic example. A public authority or prosecutor may want to know who the reporter is and we are obliged by law in many countries to provide the name.

So, we can’t rule this possibility out and must be careful not to over-promise with this. But we should be caring with colleagues who have concerns and when it potentially comes to finding new opportunities in the company. Of course, it can be hard for someone who raised a concern to stay in their environment. Always be honest and not over-promise what we can deliver. This topic is close to my heart – there is no effective compliance system without a good system for people who want to speak up. We need this. We love to see the number of anonymous complaints going down because it shows trust. However, we need this open door for people who have a concern and want to speak up in a confidential way. Thank you for the great question!

Session: Operationalising Ethics – Mission Impossible or Next Level of Compliance?

“Have you analysed the effect of opening up whistleblowing channels to suppliers, customers and the public?”

Dr. Christian Hauser (University of Applied Sciences of the Grisons): Yes, we analysed this as well and what we found is that if you open your whistleblowing system to more stakeholders, then you receive more reports and also better reports. More relevant reports. What we can see from the data is that it is positive to include other stakeholders, not only the employees into the system and encourage them to report as well.

Session: Official Launch of the Whistleblowing Report 2021

Download the full Whistleblowing Report 2021

“A question for Mr. Birkenfeld: did you feel threatened/afraid for your safety, taking into consideration the gravity and significance of your actions? Was it a difficult decision to make?”

Bradley Birkenfeld (financial whistleblower): It wasn’t, actually. When I first made my decision to come forward, it was important because I felt as though not only myself but my colleagues, the shareholders and the clients of the bank were put at risk. So, I felt as though this was very very serious. So, I really stepped forward. Now I was a single man at the time. Many people who are married with children may not have done what I had done but I felt as though if I don’t do it now, I’ll know that I should have done it so I would have had regrets. So no, I had the courage to come forward and I quit a very well-paid position at UBS as a director.

Session: Battling UBS, The World’s Largest Bank: My Uncensored Story as The Historic Whistleblower

“What were the greatest compliance and ethics challenges during German reunification and are there parallels to today with globalisation?”

Theo Waigel (former finance minister of Germany): Hah, at that time, we had a problem of course. We introduced the D-Mark in Eastern Germany and it functioned well. We had no attack on transports, no stealing of money and no misuse of the banking system. But we had to privatise more than 100,000 companies at that time. And there we had one problem. The old communist managers tried to bring out their money in other countries. And although there were some western managers who sold some companies underpriced, we tried to fight against this with prosecutors. We had support also with law firms and we tried to prevent more problems. We did have some but now it is absolutely finished.

Session: Compliance: Then & Now

“How do you convince the board in a family business that they need a compliance program? Their company is growing every day and now they employee over 1,000 employees globally but they still do not understand the importance of compliance”.

Christian Ducu (European Ethics & Compliance Association): It depends a lot on how you interact with the board members, how open they are to arguments, and it also depends on how good you are at negotiating. I think in some cases you have to put it in a very personal way. Members of the board might be liable in certain situations, especially in this type of company. You have to show them exactly what will happen if the ethics and compliance function is not well prepared to mitigate problematic situations. In other cases, it might work in a more critical way, showing how employees may affect the interests of the company. You can also express points related to how unethical behaviour in general affects the ability of the company to attract investors and new business partners. So there are many ways to convince the members of the board but it all depends on context and how good you are in presenting the issue.

Session: Solving the problems of tomorrow

“Do we need an International Whistleblowing Institute who could rule these cases as governments do not seem to be objective enough dealing with these matters?”

Bradley Birkenfeld (financial whistleblower): Well, an International Whistleblowing Institute is a great idea. I’m actually working on setting up an office in Europe to handle these laws – to change them, to strengthen them. I’ve worked in Romania, France and here in Germany on this matter. I think it is important but it has to be empowered. You can’t just set up something if you don’t have the power. Certainly, I won’t be empowered by governments because certainly they don’t want to give me that power and I don’t really want it. But I think it’s important to have an ombudsman of some kind, made up of whistleblowers who can dictate to the politicians and say look, you need to change certain things which are better for society. Whether it’s in the financial areas, medical, military, construction. These areas all affect our lives on a daily basis. So, if you don’t come up with a system that actually holds these people accountable, how do you know what’s going on? You don’t. So, it’s a good idea.

Session: Battling UBS, The World’s Largest Bank: My Uncensored Story as The Historic Whistleblower

“What would you call the number one challenge of the future?”

Andreas Pyrcek (EY Forensic & Integrity Services): Anticipating risks and what’s coming up, and also risk alignment combined with this. I think compliance is getting more complex and faster. So you have to anticipate more, you have to have a broader view of compliance. So I think that’s the major challenge for compliance – to keep this pace, to understand what’s happening in the business, what’s happening with regulation, who’s doing what in an organisation. That’s the number one challenge – anticipating what’s coming up and knowing what will affect the organisation and being prepared.

Session: Solving the problems of tomorrow

If you missed the ECEC or attended but want to re-watch the sessions, you can find all of the speaker videos here Watch all ECEC 2021 replays
Niall McCarthy
Niall McCarthy

Niall is a Content Writer at the EQS Group. Originally from Ireland, he previously worked as a journalist, which included reporting on major corruption trends worldwide.