Press release

19 Jan 2022 Singapore, SG

Businesses must review compliance programs: lack of improvement in integrity standards, according to EY survey

SINGAPORE, 19 JANUARY 2022. More than half (global 55%, Singapore 60%) of employees and leaders from companies around the world believe that standards of corporate integrity have stayed the same or worsened over the last 18 months.

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More than half (global 55%, Singapore 60%) of employees and leaders from companies around the world believe that standards of corporate integrity have stayed the same or worsened over the last 18 months, according to the 2022 EY Global Integrity Report

While a record (global 97%, Singapore 96%) respondents to the survey agree that integrity is important within their organizations, 41% of global respondents (Singapore 44%) say that the COVID-19 pandemic is making it more difficult to act with integrity in business dealings.

The survey, which canvassed the views of more than 4,700 employees, managers and board directors from 54 countries and territories (including 100 in Singapore), found that leaders are struggling to create and communicate a strong and effective culture of integrity within their business.

Ramesh Moosa, EY Singapore and Asean Forensic & Integrity Services Leader, says: 
“The COVID-19 pandemic has had a serious impact on integrity standards for companies around the world – including Singapore and the Asean region. The change to ways of working throughout the COVID-19 pandemic has created a heightened risk of fraud and unethical behavior. Hybrid working makes it difficult to undertake effective compliance monitoring, and fraud risk factors typically increase at a time of crisis because companies and individuals face more financial pressures.”

Disconnect in corporate integrity amid increased investments in compliance programs

Interestingly, the survey found that Singapore respondents are more willing to adopt or accept unethical behavior for personal advancements, such as their career or remuneration, than global respondents. These unethical conduct include willingness to mislead external parties such as auditors (Singapore 19%, global 8%); ignore unethical conduct by suppliers, distributors or other third parties (Singapore 18%, global 10%); and falsify financial records (Singapore 12%, global 8%).

The survey also found that about a third of respondents (global 33%, Singapore 32%) agree that unethical behavior from senior managers and high performers is tolerated in their organizations. In addition, 23% of global respondents (Singapore 28%) agree that it is easier to bypass business rules in their organization. 

Ramesh says:

“The extended duration of the pandemic, coupled with geopolitical tensions, have undoubtedly put added pressure on businesses and individuals. In a bid to meet numbers or targets, some may be emboldened to adopt or condone risky behavior. Hence, a focus on corporate integrity should be a cultural imperative. It is about creating a culture that supports ethical decision- making. Integrity breeds trust, guiding organizations to manage data well, and helps to protect individuals against the temptation to pursue short-term gains at the expense of ethical behavior.”

This disconnect in ethical behavior is happening even as companies hiked their integrity and compliance programs. In the last 12 months, corporates have put in greater investments in integrity and compliance initiatives: 53% of responding global organizations (Singapore 55%) have a code of conduct in place, compared with 47% globally (Singapore 50%) 18 months ago. There is also an uptick in training programs, with 46% of global businesses (Singapore 42%) providing regular training on relevant legal regulatory or professional requirements, compared with 38% globally (Singapore 32%) in 2020. 

However, this increased investment is likely not being communicated effectively in an organization-wide manner. In fact, less than half (global 43%, Singapore 32%) said their management has communicated frequently about the importance of behaving with integrity. Additionally, 28% of respondents (global and Singapore) said they have heard little about policies and procedures for working remotely, and 26% of respondents globally (Singapore 32%) have little or no awareness on data privacy regulations.

Along with a lack of awareness, there appears to be limited understanding of the critical importance of integrity, beyond compliance with rules and regulations. Only a third (33%) of global respondents (Singapore 35%) say that an important characteristic of integrity is behaving with ethical standards.

Stacy Chai, Partner, Forensic & Integrity Services at Ernst & Young Advisory Pte. Ltd. says:

“Although organizations are investing more in communication and training programs, this is not enough. There is a worrying divide between investment in action and genuine change. A strong culture of integrity is vital, and businesses must review what is working and where there are issues to address.”

Building compliance programs that are fit for purpose 

Survey respondents say the dominant reason for not reporting misconduct in their organization is a concern that no action would be taken. Thirty-eight percent of global respondents (Singapore 54%) worry about this (up from 33% globally and 38% in Singapore in 2020), with nearly a third (32%) of global respondents (Singapore 41%) citing concern about future career progression within their organization. In addition, there has been a slight decline in the number of employees who believe it is easier report concerns (global 36%, Singapore 40% this year, compared with global 39%, Singapore 42% last year).

The survey also looks at respondents’ views around data protection and privacy. Regulation in these areas has been the focus of new legislation over recent years and 61% of global respondents (Singapore 74%) agree that this is beneficial for business.

Martin Tupila, Partner, Forensic & Integrity Services at Ernst & Young Advisory Pte. Ltd. says:

“A progressive integrity agenda goes beyond frameworks and policy – businesses must look beyond box-ticking and focus on creating an integrity culture at all levels within their organizations. Leaders should be under no illusion that integrity is an easy fix; however, the first step is setting the right tone from the top.”

Ramesh concludes:

“The business landscape has evolved beyond recognition in the last two years and there are many new challenges that leaders must address. Managing data integrity in a hybrid world creates new risks; and businesses must adapt their processes in line with these risks.

“The bottom line is that even the best compliance frameworks can be breached if there isn’t a culture of doing the right thing. Providing training programs that are effective and memorable is one key element of changing future conduct and behaviors to establish a culture of integrity. It’s people, not systems, that are ultimately responsible for fraud. That’s why building a strong culture of integrity is just as important as putting policies in place.”

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About EY Forensic & Integrity Services

Embedding integrity into an organization’s strategic vision and day-to-day operations is critical when managing complex issues of fraud, regulatory compliance, investigations and business disputes. Our international team of more than 4,000 forensic and technology professionals helps leaders balance business objectives and risks, build data-centric ethics and compliance programs, and ultimately develop a culture of integrity. We consider your distinct circumstances and needs to assemble the right multidisciplinary and culturally aligned team for you and your legal advisors. We strive to bring you the benefits of our leading technology, deep subject-matter knowledge and broad global sector experience.

About the survey

Between June and September 2021, researchers — the global market research agency Ipsos MORI — conducted 4,762 surveys in the local language with board members, senior managers, managers and employees in a sample of the largest organizations and public bodies in 54 countries and territories worldwide.