Bribery and the Board in the Insurance Broker Business

August 1, 2011

 

Between the FCPA, UK Bribery Act and the CFPOA there are many new cases in the bribery landscape. However, there is a very recent case involving a multinational insurance brokerage. This case is not categorized as a direct bribery issue, but rather a failure to prevent bribery. The Financial Services Authority (FSA) announced last week, here, that it fined Willis Limited 6.9 million pounds for “failings in its anti-bribery and corruption systems and controls” which “created an unacceptable risk that payments by Willis Limited to overseas third parties could be used for corrupt purposes.”

This case changes the game before most people have even started to learn the rules. It is still very common for corporate leaders to respond to news of bribery enforcement by saying “everyone is doing it” and “that is just how we do business in (insert industry)(insert city).” Most internal and third party professionals will be quick to point out that such realities are not an acceptable defence to regulatory enforcement. However, those defences are still being attempted, and the result is industry based systemic risk as regulators then say “ok, where else and who else” and start flipping over rocks in other regions or at industry competitors. Therefore, don’t be surprised to see similar settlements in insurance brokerage industry.

The rules of the game are that directors and senior management need to turn their minds to controls and procedures to prevent this (recently) unacceptable behaviour. In the Willis case, it seems that the organization, unlike many other organizations, did in fact create and implement “appropriate anti-bribery and corruption systems and controls”, but the FSA has suggested with this fine that the existence of controls is not enough and they are required to “ensure that those systems and controls are adequately implemented and monitored”, at the grassroots level.

The time period of the payments in question was January 2005 to December 2009, which means that there is a long tail of liability involved with FSA bribery enforcement actions and therefore organizations and their governing minds had better respond quickly to create and/or increase their controls and control enforcement and monitoring.

The Willis case, and the recent Canadian CFPOA case against Niko Resources, here, might suggest that international bribery enforcement is not a game, because the value of the fines are many multiples of the alleged inappropriate payments in question (at least those values that were disclosed.) In the Niko case the payments in question were less than C$200,000, but the fine was C$9.6 million (the actual value of Niko’s business dealings in “high risk jurisdictions” were not disclosed.) In the Willis case, the total value of transactions over the five year period was 27 million pounds, with the suspicions payments totalling $227,000, and the fine being 6.895 million pounds (after a 30% discount for cooperation and early settlement.)

Here is the loss control opportunity presented by this case to directors, officers, management and employees of corporations doing business overseas (I know this is easier said than done, this is a just a blog):

  • Identify all payments to foreign third parties (especially in “high risk jurisdictions” – if it helps to narrow things down (kidding) the Niko case involved Bangladesh, the Willis case involved Egypt and Russia),
  • Establish and record the commercial rationale for all payments to foreign third parties – this needs to be done to the minute degree of demonstrating “in each case why it was necessary… to use an Overseas Third Party (OTP) to win business and what services (the company) would receive from that OTP in return for a share of its commission”
  • Understand that foreign official is a much broader group than you might think (other bribery cases have set the precedent that doctors and other medical staff in most countries are considered foreign officials, World Bank and IMF staff are foreign officials), 
  • Realize other enforcement examples are not just a learning opportunity but an obligation; the acting director of enforcement and financial crime in the Willis case specifically said this case was “particularly disappointing as we have repeatedly communicated with the industry on this issue”, 
  • Provide formal training to staff to recognize an affected payment and to record in detail (more than a brief description) the reasons and resulting services surrounding the payment. This is the only way to demonstrate adequate monitoring and effectiveness of anti-bribery systems and controls, 
  • Ensure adequate due diligence on OTP to assess how the OTP is connected to the organization’s client, the foreign official and any other involved third party, 
  • Recognize that you are responsible for indirect bribery or alleged bribery of a foreign official, not just for direct bribery. This means you are responsible for the actions of any Third Party that could be in a position of making improper payments to help your organization win or retain business from overseas clients or prospective clients, 
  • Ensure that this due diligence is applied to each and every time a payment is made to a Third Party, not just the inception of business with that Third Party.

There is a very strong argument that the Willis case is not a bribery case, it is a books and records case, but FSA does not seem to care about the distinction. The case has been lumped in with the recent UK Bribery Act / FCPA / CFPOA bribery enforcement actions, so it is getting media attention that it may or may not deserve.

Is this a good example of directors’ and officers’ liability? No, not directly. There was no mention of negligence by an individually named director or officer. But many bribery enforcement actions have spawned downstream criminal, civil and securities liability lawsuits, so if directors and officers do not learn and react to the public pain suffered by other entities, they have a good chance of facing personal liability.

My advice, be careful about extending your D&O insurance policy to FCPA / UK Bribery / CFPOA enforcement action if you don’t fully understand how your policy is exposed to Entity Coverage or other risk of erosion or exhaustion of its limits of liability. There is no regulation or oversight of D&O policy wordings or pricing in Canada, so your assumption of the level of “personal loss” coverage in your D&O policy might be incorrect. Without early investigation you might not find that out until it is too late.

Greg Shields is a D&O, Professional Liability and Crime insurance specialist and a Partner at the University and Dundas (Toronto) branch of Mitchell Sandham Insurance Services. He can be reached at gshields@mitchellsandham.com, 416 862-5626, or Skype at risk.first. And more details of risk and loss control can be found on the Mitchell Sandham blog at http://mitchellsandham.wordpress.com/

CAUTION: This article does not constitute a legal opinion or insurance advice and must not be construed as such. It is important to always consult a registered and truly independent insurance broker and a lawyer who is a member of the Bar or Law Society of the relevant jurisdiction with regard to this material before making any insurance or legal decisions. All material is copyrighted by Mitchell Sandham Inc. and may not be reproduced in any form for commercial purposes without the express written consent of Mitchell Sandham Inc. Anyone seeking to link this document from any external website must receive the consent of Mitchell Sandham Inc. by sending an e-mail to gshields@mitchellsandham.com.


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