Global bribery and corruption risks put pressure on boards

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  • EY’s survey of over 2,700 executives across 59 countries highlights that nearly 40% of executives consider bribery and corruption widespread in their country
  • Emerging risks are not being taken seriously enough, nearly half of global respondents and over two-thirds of Singaporeans consider cybercrime a low risk
  • With management struggling to respond to long-standing and emerging fraud risks, boards put under more pressure

Singapore, 12 June 2014 – EY’s 13th Global Fraud Survey, Overcoming compliance fatigue: reinforcing the commitment to ethical growth, has found concerning levels of perceived fraud, bribery and corruption across the world.

The survey included in-depth interviews with more than 2,700 executives across 59 countries, including chief financial officers, chief compliance officers, general counsel and heads of internal audit. Nearly 40% of all respondents believe that bribery and corruption are widespread in their country. Comparatively, only 20% of Singapore respondents hold this opinion.

Lawrance Lai, Partner for Fraud Investigation & Dispute Services (FIDS) at EY in Singapore says: “Even though the perception of bribery and corruption in Singapore is relatively low compared to the global average, organizations need to be mindful of complacency and the drive for growth which can predispose employees and management to unethical conduct. Organizations must not relent on continued education and consistent enforcement of anti-bribery and corruption policies that are underpinned by a strong zero-tolerance tone from the top, even when fraud risks may not be apparent.”

Emerging cybercrime risks not being taken seriously enough

On emerging threats, despite the apparent global consensus on the significant scale of the threat of cybercrime, almost half of the respondents (48%) considered it to represent a very or fairly low risk to their business. In Singapore, particularly, 68% of respondents believe that cybercrime poses a very or fairly low risk.

These survey findings suggest that executives may not have a proper appreciation of cybercrime risks. With respondents portraying a business environment of pervasive corruption in many countries, it would appear that management and boards are struggling to respond to long-standing threats, let alone addressing emerging risks such as cybercrime.

Globally, respondents see hackers as the biggest concern (48%) and are underestimating the risk from organized crime syndicates as well as foreign states. Singapore respondents believe that the main sources of cybercrime risks are expected to come from employees or contractors (56%), hackers (50%), and competitors (46%).

Lai adds: “With high-profile cybercrime incidents making headlines worldwide on a regular basis, and given Singapore’s position as a highly connected business hub for the region, there inherently lies a real risk of cybercrimes. Pressure on companies for timely disclosure of breaches is rising in many jurisdictions, so these issues will require attention from the legal and compliance functions. Boards should expect management to have a robust incident response strategy in place, and as cyber risks could relate to the integrity of financial statements, audit committee members too have to be alert to today’s cyber threat environment.”

“In addition, regulators are increasingly bolstering their ability to mine big data from corporations for potential irregularities. Forensic data analytics can help to identify revenue recognition or procurement-related red flags earlier and more efficiently. Boards should be asking how management is leveraging big data and technology to improve compliance and investigative outcomes,” Lai continues.

Is the C-suite making the right risk management choices?

The C-suite’s difficulties can only be heightened by insufficient awareness of the risks they face. 

Our survey found that globally, they are less likely than their teams to attend anti-bribery/anti-corruption (ABAC) training (38%) or participate in an ABAC risk assessment (30%). This is alarming given that these executives are apparently exposed to circumstances which threaten their integrity on a regular basis. Twenty-one percent of CEOs said that they had been approached to pay a bribe in the past, compared with 10% of all C-suite interviewees.

Worryingly, given their role in setting an ethical tone from the top, a significant minority (11%) of CEOs considered misstating financial performance to be justifiable in order to help a business survive an economic downturn, compared with 6% of all respondents.

David Stulb, Global Leader of EY’s Fraud Investigation & Dispute Services comments: “Given the risk of management overriding financial controls, the implications for boards from these findings about C-suite integrity are serious. Enhancing board connectivity with business and finance leaders in the company – but below the C-suite – would be useful to confirm that the board is getting the full and accurate picture. With regulators committing additional resources to prosecuting financial statement fraud, and cooperating frequently with prosecutors from other jurisdictions, the stakes have never been higher.”

The need to reinvigorate compliance

The survey also found that compliance fatigue within businesses appears to have set in at a time when they can least afford it. In a regulatory environment in which international cooperation is becoming more frequent, our respondents described a largely static internal compliance environment:

  • One in five businesses (17%) globally, and 27% in Singapore, still do not have an ABAC policy.
  • 45% of organizations globally, and 42% in Singapore, have not introduced a whistleblowing hotline.
  • Less than 50% of global respondents, and less than 30% of Singapore respondents, have attended ABAC training.

“Enforcement of anti-bribery/anti-corruption laws has become more intensive, with significantly strengthened cross-border cooperation among regulators,” explains Stulb. “With new, tougher laws in numerous jurisdictions, and enhanced prosecutorial powers and bigger budgets for law enforcement in certain key geographies, this trend is not just a US phenomenon. Despite numerous recent high-profile prosecutions of major multinationals and their executives, many companies continue to miss opportunities to implement robust ABAC policies and risk assessments. Too few are regularly conducting anti-corruption due diligence. CEOs can do more to lead from the front on these matters, and boards and other stakeholders should intensify their efforts to challenge management to reinforce their commitment to ethical growth.”  

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Notes to editors      

About the survey

Between November 2013 and February 2014, our researchers – the global market research agency Ipsos – conducted 2,719 interviews in the local language with senior decision-makers in a sample of the largest companies in 59 countries.

About EY’s Fraud Investigation & Dispute Services (FIDS) practice

Dealing with complex issues of fraud, regulatory compliance and business disputes can detract from efforts to succeed. Better management of fraud risk and compliance exposure is a critical business priority — no matter the industry sector. With our more than 2,600 fraud investigation and dispute professionals around the world, we assemble the right multidisciplinary and culturally aligned team to work with you and your legal advisors. And we work to give you the benefit of our broad sector experience, our deep subject matter knowledge and the latest insights from our work worldwide.

About EY

EY is a global leader in assurance, tax, transaction and advisory services. The insights and quality services we deliver help build trust and confidence in the capital markets and in economies the world over. We develop outstanding leaders who team to deliver on our promises to all of our stakeholders. In so doing, we play a critical role in building a better working world for our people, for our clients and for our communities.

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This news release has been issued by Ernst & Young Solutions LLP, a member of the global EY organization.