Foreign Corruption

Corruption Crack-Down

Governments around the globe step up efforts to wipe out corruption.
By: | October 15, 2013 • 7 min read

Around the world, social pressure against public corruption is resulting in huge demonstrations, investigations and legislation. And that is rebounding on multinationals that face their own pressure to keep business above board while trying to expand in countries where bribery is often necessary to get permits and permission.

A survey of CFOs and board members by Ernst & Young found that 95 percent of the respondents were “very” or “fairly” concerned about the potential liability resulting from fraud and corruption in Latin America — the area that offers the most concern.

Not far below were the Middle East and Africa, at 87 percent, and Central and Eastern Europe, at 84 percent.

While laws are almost universally clear — don’t do it — the risks are increasingly complex, as anti-corruption laws and their enforcement evolve both in the United States and overseas.

In the United States, investigators appear to be scouring industries that traditionally have not attracted notice, according to attorneys and experts in the field.

Retailers have been in the spotlight, for instance, ever since news surfaced in April 2012 of a probe into Wal-Mart. The retail giant is alleged to have paid bribes in Mexico to speed growth there.

Enforcement is intensifying in other countries as well, pushed along by public protests as well as by an anti-bribery convention overseen by the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Forty countries, including Argentina, Russia and South Africa, have signed the OECD convention since it was drafted in 1997.

Today, more than 300 investigations are underway in 24 countries, according to Patrick Moulette, head of the OECD’s anti-corruption division. “It has not doubled from last year or the year before, but it’s 10 or 20 more every year, so maybe this is a positive sign,” said Moulette, who hopes greater attention will spur countries to crack down harder.

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Other nations, notably China, are dusting off their own anti-bribery laws, exposing U.S. companies to potentially costly legal action on new fronts.

“It’s very hard to find a country anywhere where bribery is legal,” said Brian Loughman, Americas leader for Fraud Investigation and Dispute Services with Ernst & Young. “The challenge is always, what’s the enforcement like.”

To top it off, foreign prosecutors today are more likely to share information with their U.S. counterparts. “The world is smaller for prosecutors, too,” Loughman said.

For decades, U.S. companies only had to worry about the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act of 1977, or FCPA, which bans bribery of public officials in other countries. American executives often complain they are disadvantaged by the statute, as it does not apply to businesses based outside the United States.

Enforcement eventually prompted stronger controls and tougher policies, but investigators remain aggressive, according to Michael Himmel, an attorney and chair of the litigation and white-collar criminal defense departments at the law firm of Lowenstein Sandler.

“More and more cases are being investigated, and prosecutors are tending to take harder lines,” said Himmel. Over the last five years, he said, investigators have asked companies to open up more of their operations to review. “That’s obviously going to be a greater expense,” he said.

Equal Opportunity Scrutiny

Investigators also seem to be eyeing new sectors, expanding beyond defense, energy and mining to include pharmaceuticals and retail.

It’s a costly occurrence for the probed companies. The ongoing probe into Wal-Mart so far has cost the company more than $150 million, according to company filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

The SEC and the Department of Justice, which enforce the FCPA, do not explicitly target industries, said Timothy P. Peterson, a partner in the Washington, D.C., office of Murphy & McGonigle. But as investigators dig into one company’s operations, they may follow a trail to others in the same sector.

“The real danger for retailers is that when there are very large investigations, the government is going to start to get familiar with how that business works,” Peterson said. “They may, as they get more familiar with the business, decide they want to find more companies that operate in a similar way.”

It’s not just government investigators. Corporate rivals are another source of FCPA-related allegations, said Brett W. Johnson, a partner in the Phoenix office of law firm Snell & Wilmer. Companies may arouse suspicion if they are moving goods or opening stores more quickly than competitors, especially in countries where corruption is considered rife.

“The default is, ‘He’s paying somebody off,’ ” Johnson said.

For retailers, corruption risks extend throughout the supply chain, and they are compounded by the pressure to stock shelves in time to meet buyers’ needs. Bathing suits don’t sell well in November, at least in the northern hemisphere.

“Keeping the supply chain flowing is critical to a retailer, especially one that has any kind of seasonality,” said Randy Stephens, vice president of the Ethical Leadership Group of NAVEX Global Inc., a compliance technology firm based in Portland, Ore.

Foreign customs officials often recognize the time pressure — and the power it can give them to demand bribes, Stephens said.

“If you give them the sense that you’re going to participate in that scheme, at any level, you only open yourself up to more trouble, because you look like somebody who’s going to play that game,” Stephens said.

In addition to training employees and establishing clear policies, retailers need to examine internal incentives, Stephens said. If executives overseas are rewarded solely for growing revenue, opening more stores or hitting other bottom-line goals, they may overstep ethical boundaries.

Compensation should be tied, in part, to actions that avoid fines, penalties or stains on a company’s global reputation, Stephens said.

“You’ve got to be willing to let people make decisions that could negatively impact your supply chain, yet comply with the law.”

Another risk arises from the use of third-party agents, a requirement for doing business in some nations. When those agents pay bribes to expedite deals, the U.S. business is on the hook for any FCPA violations.

As a result, companies seeking overseas growth must know their foreign business partners and regularly audit their operations, as well as know the country’s laws and norms.

“You’ve got to be willing to let people make decisions that could negatively impact your supply chain, yet comply with the law.” —Randy Stephens, vice president, Ethical Leadership Group of NAVEX Global Inc.

What’s legal in one country may not be legal in another. And companies can no longer focus on the FCPA alone, attorneys said.

A Tangled Web of Compliance

The United Kingdom adopted a tough anti-bribery statute in 2011. And Brazil enacted a stringent new law this year, following public protests that coalesced around government corruption. In addition to increased penalties, the law allows companies to be found guilty of bribing public officials. Previously, only individuals could be found guilty of that crime.

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“Very few companies today can comply, or attempt to comply, with just one home jurisdiction,” said Michel Léonard, chief economist and senior vice president of Emerging Markets for Alliant. “It’s a bit like antitrust laws. These days, mergers need to be approved in the U.S. and Europe as well.”

Experts said U.S. companies should partner with local attorneys who can can train employees, navigate the nuances of a country’s laws, and react quickly to problems.

“You’re not going to have the same processes; you’re not going to have the same protections,” said Joe Martini, co-chair of the White-Collar Defense, Investigations and Corporate Compliance Practice Group at the law firm of Wiggin and Dana.

Given the potential costs of an investigation, specialized insurance coverage is the next step in corporate compliance, said Machua Millett, a senior vice president with Marsh USA Inc. The brokerage firm introduced a specialized product in 2011.

In the past, Millett said, companies sought coverage for FCPA-related expenses under D&O policies. But underwriters and carriers hesitated, due to the size of the potential exposure.

Cooperation with the government does not necessarily lessen the expense. Although Ralph Lauren Corp. voluntarily disclosed bribes made by a subsidiary in Argentina, it still faced a penalty of $882,000.

Companies should focus first on compliance, with insurance as a backstop, Millett said. “At the end of the day, you might be able to show that you acted well.”

Joel Berg is a freelance writer and adjunct writing teacher based in York, Pa. He has covered business and regulatory issues. He can be reached at riskletters@lrp.com.

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Insurtech

Kiss Your Annual Renewal Goodbye; On-Demand Insurance Challenges the Traditional Policy

Gig workers' unique insurance needs drive delivery of on-demand coverage.
By: | September 14, 2018 • 6 min read

The gig economy is growing. Nearly six million Americans, or 3.8 percent of the U.S. workforce, now have “contingent” work arrangements, with a further 10.6 million in categories such as independent contractors, on-call workers or temporary help agency staff and for-contract firms, often with well-known names such as Uber, Lyft and Airbnb.

Scott Walchek, founding chairman and CEO, Trōv

The number of Americans owning a drone is also increasing — one recent survey suggested as much as one in 12 of the population — sparking vigorous debate on how regulation should apply to where and when the devices operate.

Add to this other 21st century societal changes, such as consumers’ appetite for other electronic gadgets and the advent of autonomous vehicles. It’s clear that the cover offered by the annually renewable traditional insurance policy is often not fit for purpose. Helped by the sophistication of insurance technology, the response has been an expanding range of ‘on-demand’ covers.

The term ‘on-demand’ is open to various interpretations. For Scott Walchek, founding chairman and CEO of pioneering on-demand insurance platform Trōv, it’s about “giving people agency over the items they own and enabling them to turn on insurance cover whenever they want for whatever they want — often for just a single item.”

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“On-demand represents a whole new behavior and attitude towards insurance, which for years has very much been a case of ‘get it and forget it,’ ” said Walchek.

Trōv’s mobile app enables users to insure just a single item, such as a laptop, whenever they wish and to also select the period of cover required. When ready to buy insurance, they then snap a picture of the sales receipt or product code of the item they want covered.

Welcoming Trōv: A New On-Demand Arrival

While Walchek, who set up Trōv in 2012, stressed it’s a technology company and not an insurance company, it has attracted industry giants such as AXA and Munich Re as partners. Trōv began the U.S. roll-out of its on-demand personal property products this summer by launching in Arizona, having already established itself in Australia and the United Kingdom.

“Australia and the UK were great testing grounds, thanks to their single regulatory authorities,” said Walchek. “Trōv is already approved in 45 states, and we expect to complete the process in all by November.

“On-demand products have a particular appeal to millennials who love the idea of having control via their smart devices and have embraced the concept of an unbundling of experiences: 75 percent of our users are in the 18 to 35 age group.” – Scott Walchek, founding chairman and CEO, Trōv

“On-demand products have a particular appeal to millennials who love the idea of having control via their smart devices and have embraced the concept of an unbundling of experiences: 75 percent of our users are in the 18 to 35 age group,” he added.

“But a mass of tectonic societal shifts is also impacting older generations — on-demand cover fits the new ways in which they work, particularly the ‘untethered’ who aren’t always in the same workplace or using the same device. So we see on-demand going into societal lifestyle changes.”

Wooing Baby Boomers

In addition to its backing for Trōv, across the Atlantic, AXA has partnered with Insurtech start-up By Miles, launching a pay-as-you-go car insurance policy in the UK. The product is promoted as low-cost car insurance for drivers who travel no more than 140 miles per week, or 7,000 miles annually.

“Due to the growing need for these products, companies such as Marmalade — cover for learner drivers — and Cuvva — cover for part-time drivers — have also increased in popularity, and we expect to see more enter the market in the near future,” said AXA UK’s head of telematics, Katy Simpson.

Simpson confirmed that the new products’ initial appeal is to younger motorists, who are more regular users of new technology, while older drivers are warier about sharing too much personal information. However, she expects this to change as on-demand products become more prevalent.

“Looking at mileage-based insurance, such as By Miles specifically, it’s actually older generations who are most likely to save money, as the use of their vehicles tends to decline. Our job is therefore to not only create more customer-centric products but also highlight their benefits to everyone.”

Another Insurtech ready to partner with long-established names is New York-based Slice Labs, which in the UK is working with Legal & General to enter the homeshare insurance market, recently announcing that XL Catlin will use its insurance cloud services platform to create the world’s first on-demand cyber insurance solution.

“For our cyber product, we were looking for a partner on the fintech side, which dovetailed perfectly with what Slice was trying to do,” said John Coletti, head of XL Catlin’s cyber insurance team.

“The premise of selling cyber insurance to small businesses needs a platform such as that provided by Slice — we can get to customers in a discrete, seamless manner, and the partnership offers potential to open up other products.”

Slice Labs’ CEO Tim Attia added: “You can roll up on-demand cover in many different areas, ranging from contract workers to vacation rentals.

“The next leap forward will be provided by the new economy, which will create a range of new risks for on-demand insurance to respond to. McKinsey forecasts that by 2025, ecosystems will account for 30 percent of global premium revenue.

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“When you’re a start-up, you can innovate and question long-held assumptions, but you don’t have the scale that an insurer can provide,” said Attia. “Our platform works well in getting new products out to the market and is scalable.”

Slice Labs is now reviewing the emerging markets, which aren’t hampered by “old, outdated infrastructures,” and plans to test the water via a hackathon in southeast Asia.

Collaboration Vs Competition

Insurtech-insurer collaborations suggest that the industry noted the banking sector’s experience, which names the tech disruptors before deciding partnerships, made greater sense commercially.

“It’s an interesting correlation,” said Slice’s managing director for marketing, Emily Kosick.

“I believe the trend worth calling out is that the window for insurers to innovate is much shorter, thanks to the banking sector’s efforts to offer omni-channel banking, incorporating mobile devices and, more recently, intelligent assistants like Alexa for personal banking.

“Banks have bought into the value of these technology partnerships but had the benefit of consumer expectations changing slowly with them. This compares to insurers who are in an ever-increasing on-demand world where the risk is high for laggards to be left behind.”

As with fintechs in banking, Insurtechs initially focused on the retail segment, with 75 percent of business in personal lines and the remainder in the commercial segment.

“Banks have bought into the value of these technology partnerships but had the benefit of consumer expectations changing slowly with them. This compares to insurers who are in an ever-increasing on-demand world where the risk is high for laggards to be left behind.” — Emily Kosick, managing director, marketing, Slice

Those proportions may be set to change, with innovations such as digital commercial insurance brokerage Embroker’s recent launch of the first digital D&O liability insurance policy, designed for venture capital-backed tech start-ups and reinsured by Munich Re.

Embroker said coverage that formerly took weeks to obtain is now available instantly.

“We focus on three main issues in developing new digital business — what is the customer’s pain point, what is the expense ratio and does it lend itself to algorithmic underwriting?” said CEO Matt Miller. “Workers’ compensation is another obvious class of insurance that can benefit from this approach.”

Jason Griswold, co-founder and chief operating officer of Insurtech REIN, highlighted further opportunities: “I’d add a third category to personal and business lines and that’s business-to-business-to-consumer. It’s there we see the biggest opportunities for partnering with major ecosystems generating large numbers of insureds and also big volumes of data.”

For now, insurers are accommodating Insurtech disruption. Will that change?

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“Insurtechs have focused on products that regulators can understand easily and for which there is clear existing legislation, with consumer protection and insurer solvency the two issues of paramount importance,” noted Shawn Hanson, litigation partner at law firm Akin Gump.

“In time, we could see the disruptors partner with reinsurers rather than primary carriers. Another possibility is the likes of Amazon, Alphabet, Facebook and Apple, with their massive balance sheets, deciding to link up with a reinsurer,” he said.

“You can imagine one of them finding a good Insurtech and buying it, much as Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods gave it entry into the retail sector.” &

Graham Buck is a UK-based writer and has contributed to Risk & Insurance® since 1998. He can be reached at riskletters.com.