Mentoring across borders

The ACFE’s mentoring program is going into its second round shortly. A quick scan through their database tells me there are currently no mentors in Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Austria or Denmark other than myself. Around ten mentors are available respectively in Germany and the United Kingdom, just a handful in Switzerland. Yet, the requests of mentees keep dropping in despite the system already indicating that I am at “maximum”.

Over the duration of the program, that is a period of six months, those accepted mentees will work with me. Others, I will attempt to mentor in alternative ways. For instance by encouraging them to use the association’s forum for more general discussion or anonymised requests that can tap into the wisdom of the crowd.

Just as when I embarked on the first run of the program, I have requests from around the globe. It is fascinating to see the diversity of cultural background, professional level and skill set and the specific requirements for mentoring. I am also intrigued to learn that professional and highly educated mentees frequently need a combination of mentor, coach and consultant rather than a mentor per se.

The initial task is to clarify and negotiate what guidance I can provide and where the limits of my engagement are. Communicating across cultural contexts, timezones and professional boundaries can be inspiring, energizing and great fun but it is neither easy nor always smooth, I am aware of that.

Establishing trust and a comfortable tone that allows for strengths, weaknesses, hopes and plans to be shared by the mentees is paramount to me. I know it all depends on how comfortable we become in a fairly short period of time to open up and discuss meaningful goals. There is no guarantee and I need to be skilled in reading in between the lines, raising questions, concerns and potential needs in a diplomatic manner. If I fail to adhere to this set of my own standards, I will encourage the mentee to communicate any frustrations in time.

Having been a mentee myself, I know that this is not necessarily the standard approach. Mentees may find themselves accepted quickly but then ghosted, weeks or months without engagement. Mentees may find a mentor having harsh ideas about imparting knowledge, instructing rather than developing and some may cross some borders.

But then, learning from less than best practice has always been valuable to me. I am committed to offering the best of what the good mentors have instilled in me. I know that the better I do my job as a mentor, the higher the chances the mentee will pass this on once they are ready to mentor others.

Once we are at that stage of trust within the mentoring relationship, I offer value by challenging respectfully where required, guiding gently with ideas and suggestions and a pace that is in line with the mentee’s requirements. I still allow the mentee to feel they have full ownership over the process and in fact that they do own the outcome.

Ownership is a much-underestimated aspect. Both, in the world of risk management and corporate compliance as well as in political governance. I know how important it is not to impose, but to develop in collaboration and by permitting and maintaining a sense of authorship and ownership. It applies to risk policies, constitutions and work procedures just as it does to one’s career steps, professional narrative and decision-making processes.

My goal is to empower, to enable and to help the mentee grow. As far as possible I want to achieve this with the mentee in a partnership based on equality. This is an approach I have learned to value highly over the years and it is a way of dealing with each other that I have come to appreciate mainly in the Nordics but also to a substantial degree in the UK. It is an exciting way of accompanying someone’s professional journey. It is also deeply inspiring to see what empowering others can achieve and what developing skills in tandem can instil, both, in mentees and mentors.

Choosing wisely and timely: annual CPEs

Outside the US and the UK, this requirement is fairly unknown – certainly among all those who do not hold a qualification which requires Continuing Professional Education (CPE). As a Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE), earning and reporting CPE credit on an annual basis is mandatory. It’s not a nice to have, it’s a must.

Some of the misconceptions I have encountered are rooted in cultural differences. For instance, in Germany, CPE tends to be confused with concepts such as Lifelong Learning. Of course, the language barrier may play a role, too. CPE is most adequately translated to Kontinuierliche Berufliche Weiterbildung or Fortbildung. Howevermost German professional qualifications do not require any CPE, so the concept per se remains foreign to many.

I would like to help readers across Europe and beyond to understand what it means and why it is beneficial to the professional individual and the professional community but also to the wider industry, the employees, and even the public.  So I decided to clarify this here on my website:

The ACFE’s CPE requirements for CFEs – What are they, how do they work?
As Certified Fraud Examiners we have to fulfill a number of academic, professional and character-related criteria (see here) prior to our certification, these constitute the eligibility criteria. Subsequent to studying the 2,000 pages manual (or alternative ways to prepare) and passing the exam, certification can be applied for.

Once, we have achieved certification, an annual CPE requirement applies, as the ACFE specifies:

To maintain your CFE Credential, you are required to earn at least 20 hours of Continuing Professional Education (CPE) every 12-month period.
At least 10 of these hours must relate directly to the detection and deterrence of fraud and 2 hours must relate directly to ethics.

What’s the purpose and how is this meaningful?
CPE is not just meaningful but a vital means by which we CFEs maintain our professional knowledge and specific skill set. Continuing education in our profession is particularly valuable and vital, as the area continues to undergo frequent change and evolves on a global scale.

The competence maintained in this way benefits the individual in so far as we can continue to develop our full potential. It also aids the overall standard of the profession and keeps it on a high and up-to-date level. Ultimately though, this also helps the wider civic society.

CPE options, formats, and financial aspects:
The ACFE currently counts more than 60,000 certified members in over 120 countries. To some, their nearest chapter is the provider of workshops, seminars, and conferences where CPEs can be earned.

Others, in more remote locations, less mobile, with limited funding or a very tight schedule may prefer earning their CPEs with webinars, webcasts, self-study books, and university materials or authoring of materials. The ACFE provides a wide range of CPE credit options, they differ in the format of delivery, duration and in terms of subject area. They also differ widely in financial aspects, some are entirely free of charge – for an overview see here.

CPE reporting, failure, and disciplinary consequences:
CPE credits need to be reported to the ACFE on an annual basis, reminders are issued from around 90 days prior to the expiration of annual reporting period – which equals an individual member’s annual membership period.

CPE reporting is subject to audits. The ACFE also maintains a database of suspended members. Those who fail to earn their CPE credits or committed fraudulent acts in earning them become subject to disciplinary measures in line with the ACFE bylaws, rules and regulations.

Here is how I chose to fulfill my CPE requirement:
a) I opted for a 20 CPE self-study course, focusing on public sector fraud with a specific focus on the FCPA and the UK Bribery Act. This course contains the 2 mandatory CPE hours of ethics training and requires passing an exam. This could be sufficient to fully earn my annual CPE credits.

(b) However, I have also completed a number of webinars with the ACFE, each of them at 1CPE. This has provided me with fresh insights into areas the self-study course did touch upon but in a different way. For instance, I attended a webinar which focused on data analytics and how it can be used in compliance testing – which overall acted also as an eye-opener in terms of creative thinking when it comes to fraud prevention and detection.

(c) Further, I chose a few of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants’ (AICPA) CPE webcasts (see all CPE courses). AICPA has been maintaining a very close collaboration with the ACFE for years. The webcasts differ slightly from the ACFE’s webinars insofar as they are often panel discussions, they contain test questions which pop up during the cast and an overall exam.

Especially the AICPA Behavioral Ethics webcasts, amounting to 1.5-2 CPE credits, are very interesting and useful (to fulfill ACFE ethics CPE requirement). They may cross-reference the ACFE material, for instance, the Annual Report to the Nations, or else.

Overall, I find the mix of sources, predominantly provided by ACFE and AICPA courses, very valuable and thought-provoking. The combination I strongly recommend also includes CPE credit from a wider variety of organizations, for instance, Protiviti and Thomson Reuters offer respectively 1 CPE for the attendance of a live webinar on Anti-Money Laundering Model Validation and a live webcast on hidden risks surrounding sanctioned entities.

Earning CPE credit and enhancing one’s skill set can be and should be as interesting, stimulating and positively challenging as possible. Hence, to me, earning CPEs are not just an annual duty – they are a vital part of my professional development and as such, I actively seek opportunities to enhance the mandatory requirement. You’ll never know where inspiration comes from…..




Do Codes of Conduct work? Misconduct, Fraud and Ethics.

Just another document

In a recent interview, I talked about internal controls and ethics and referred to Wells Fargo as an example of the implementation of a Code of Conduct which did not result in the desired ethical behavior.

The reasons, as far as I have been able to observe and analyze are complex, far from obvious and even counter-intuitive. I believe we require a much better and more holistic understanding of the power dynamics, the collective unconscious and the interplay between individual-peer-community dynamics and pressures, sector and industry practices and the national society as well as the global.  This applies especially to transnational corporations and cross-border operations where cultural aspects further add to the complexity and potential failure of a Code of Conduct.

The main reasons why an Ethics Code or Code of Conduct, even if fully embedded, rolled out and vigorously communicated, fails to bring the desired change, center strongly around the following:

Corporate predicaments:

  • Tone at the top (set by CEO or the entire C-suite) mismatches tone at the middle – long-serving middle management has its own practices;
  • Expectations at the top (C-suite, Board but also shareholders) remain profit-focused, no shift towards a greater paradigm shift gets underway;
  • Ethical behavior is mainly valued as reducing litigation risk (and costs) but not valued as profit-generating;
  • Compliance and risk departments are seen as non-profit generating, no counter-narrative from the C-suite is offered/communicated;
  • Weak internal controls including weak HR division are impacting internal whistleblowing and act as a deterrent (rather than deterring misconduct).

Cultural issues:

  • Ethics and the Code of Conduct are being mocked by (long-serving) middle-management as something that will pass as so many initiatives before;
  • Code of Ethics is coupled with zero tolerance – correctly interpreted as unrealistic;
  • Acting ethically may be deemed “nice” and interpreted as weakness rather than a strength (by both gender) – this is usually even more so in industries with fierce competition and a glass ceiling;
  • Morality is not seen as in line with the Code of Conduct – ethics are understood as more abstract and deemed over the top;
  • Morality has been mainly lived and practiced by a (corporate and societal) culture of naming & shaming and scapegoating rather than embracing the messenger who delivers bad news before the event – shooting the messenger has been the norm.

Mechanisms and knowledge missing:

  • No, or no sound, internal crowd-sourcing platform or system to gather issues and reward those who point them out and provide potential solutions are in place – promised anonymity communicates inherent threats/risks to those who wish to protect the organization and name problems versus transparency of issues, discussed in open forums beyond the confines of a department which would indicate openness to fix rather than to blame;
  • Morality and ethics are wrongly deemed as inherent – they are not understood as learned, negotiated, agreed and practiced concepts, rather there is a lack of knowledge that they change in socio-historical contexts and are not universal per se;
  • Lack of respect and integration of experts in behavioral collective change – business consultants rather than social scientists shape the strategy and communication, resulting in a sense of rhetorical unrealistic exercise;
  • Lack of understanding that ethics cannot be imposed but need to be owned by the community of all staff at all levels – which is why crowd-sourcing can be such a powerful approach and which is why Volkswagen’s hierarchical structure played such a central role in the emissions scandal.

Broader factors:

  • A history of severe misconduct with inability to replace all those previously involved (due to size of organization or else) may result in a Code of Conduct being circumvented by creatively finding loopholes (the role of legal professionals in this context is another issue);
  • Other main players in the industry are not embracing a Code of Conduct as strongly, resulting in a competitive disadvantage.

I believe this question is incredibly important and we need a deeper discussion as to why the implementation of Codes of Conduct continue to fail and/or don’t bring the changes we want and need to see as widely and sustainably embedded and practiced as they should. I also believe that ownership (at all levels) of any Code of Conduct plays an extremely important role but is often hugely undervalued and misunderstood.

Cross-border community in times of crime

The personal, the societal, the international
When thousands of Icelanders, expats, tourists and exchange students gathered in a memorial walking, the temperatures well below freezing, the mood was calm, quiet and collected. Participants united in a walk towards the point where Birna Brjánsdóttir had last been seen – by public cameras – to place flowers and candles at this spot, and at Arnarhóll, Reykjavik’s historically, culturally and geographically central hill.

What I gathered was quiet compassion and a distinct warmth, a shared sense of this being a real and symbolic loss to a community that rarely suffers any violent losses, in particular when taking an international perspective (New York Times coverage).  Memorial events had also taken place in Greenland’s capital Nuuk, and further Greenlandic towns, as well as the Faroe Islands.

Role of community: Gemeinschaft, cohesion and cultural norms
Community and collective effort in this extremely rare case of violent crime (Iceland’s remarkably low crime rate, OSAC report 2015) have been enormous. The search-and-rescue operation for missing Birna, had been similar to those in the more frequent events of lost hikers, which entail considerable and concerted collective efforts. Here in Iceland, the planet’s most peaceful nation‘s police officers carry no firearms, the military budget constitutes 0.1% of the GDP and the country has no national military force or army.  That makes the significant and effective role of civic engagement and community become even more obvious.

While Icelanders may deem this the national norm, anyone who grew up elsewhere or lived in a society that is marked by more fragmentation, separation, anonymity and lack of cohesion will have been touched by the quiet power of what German sociologist Ferdinand Tönnies coined Gemeinschaft.  Outsourcing of certain tasks and relying predominantly on or even exclusively on professional specialists is not an option.  This may be rooted in the geographical location and historically resulting from a strong sense of interdependence in a harsh climate and ever-present risks thanks to volcanic activity and other natural forces.

Violent and white-collar crime in transnational communities
The investigation of the violent crime has brought the aspect of community involvement to international audiences, the attention not least resulting from sustained all-time high interest by tourists. As mentioned in my previous article on tourism risk in Iceland and its characteristic two-way nature, the tragic loss of a young Icelandic woman raises awareness of usually much less visible links.

Iceland’s culture, informal norms, and practices show how civil society and community engagement encourage thought-provoking participation also in temporary visitors and those abroad, those who are maintaining an interest from the distance by the help of conventional and social media.

We also see how crime transgresses national borders.  It transfers from one nation, one island to another – in this case via the Greenlandic seafood trawler Polar Nanoq which had a substantial amount of drugs on board.  We may notice also how little known and understood Greenland’s societal issues are beyond the confines of the Nordic nations, and Nordic co-operation, such as the Arctic Council’s activities (2016 Assembly, panel on mental health issues). Greenland, not a member of the EU or Schengen Area, as the Faroe Islands, is subject to Danish authority, which includes border control issues, and immigration into Greenland.

The painful violent loss of a young woman’s life helps us further understand the vital role of community and civil society in resolving and preventing crime. In this sense, the police investigations, so far, have highlighted some interconnected aspects, such as:

Civil society engagement in both nations, Iceland and Greenland, at this time of shock and grief, have shown that the response and engagement of the wider society are absolutely vital in awareness-raising.  The resulting and ongoing discussion of meaningful ways, responses and mechanisms are central to effective prevention of future crimes, whether in Iceland or Greenland.

At the time of writing the case is still under investigation and a final report of the findings has not yet been published.

Environment and misconduct. The Icelandic approach.

Listen to the article 

Tourism a hundred years ago or so used to be totally different from what it is nowadays.  My maternal grandparents then also were no strangers to relocation and re-rooting.  They enjoyed travel thoroughly and up into their old age.  But their trips used to be longer – actually quite long, spanning often three, four or more weeks at a time. They immersed themselves and stayed in one place.  Their idea of holidaying was remotely resembling an anthropologist’s or ethnographer’s project, when the researcher “is going native” – which is a balancing act as they may lose objectivity. Suffice to say, my grandparents had a rather strong influence on what I would become…

As a result of very low airfares, seasonal collective escapism and the pressures of impression management, we see nowadays something that could be called fast food-style tourism.  Extended weekend trips, or even just a fifty hours visit, especially now at the year-end period, are becoming ever more common.

The Icelandic króna’s strength certainly contributes to this phenomenon.  Our weather here frequently welcomes travelers with wind speeds of 40-60 km/h which add to the issue.  Travelers tend to want to remain sheltered but enjoy the scenic views. Hiring the obligatory 4×4 and going on a selfie spree on moss in Icelandic lava fields seems a – sort of –  natural choice.

Tourists may not find the time to consult their travel guide and read up on the less exciting section with rules and warnings if they actually purchased one in the first place.  This is probably a by-product of being on some kind of budget and taking a short trip.  In addition, many may assume that a nation as widely fluent in English as Iceland, is rather very similar in their values and customs.  And this is where things potentially go wrong.

The legislation concerning off-road driving in Iceland is simple and warnings are issued in English, with hefty fines.  The number of cases has been increasing, though, and keeps making headlines.  Tourists have been found guilty of disrespecting and damaging the fragile nature by ignoring closed roads, by crossing rivers, and driving generally where they are not supposed to.  Extremely quickly changing weather conditions and tourists simply underestimating nature’s power have probably been playing a part in those incidents too.

The cases cover the whole range from amusing to quite unfortunate, some are just bizarre. Fines have been served, some rather steep, tourists have been rescued and an increasing number of warning signs and safety measures have been implemented.

Tourism risk (see also socio-cultural disadvantages such as social stress, United Nations Environment Program) goes both ways: tourists may be posing a risk to the environment but often also to themselves, which triggers more unfavorable comments as to the national rescue service (ICE-SAR) which is run by volunteers.  No doubt, tourism brings about change.  It raises awareness in those who travel and go back home, hopefully being rather more than less honest about misconceptions and cultural differences they were previously not so conscious of. But it also causes change in the locals.

Communication becomes the key to understanding what appears so hard to grasp – all the taken for granted, the common sense that appears to be missing in foreign tourists who litter, trample down what’s precious to nature and locals and ignore the rules that come naturally to the locals.  As often though, whether it is just a few “rotten apples” that give tourists a bad reputation in general or if it is a wider issue, perhaps even systemic, is not so easy to say. What seems to look like ignorance, arrogance, or inhibition thanks to being abroad and possibly intoxicated whether by alcohol, the scenery or else, is perhaps the root cause of this behavior. Again, this may be too simplified – but it is a common notion that shapes the discourse

Communication of values, expectations and boundaries is what is at the core of this issue. It could be argued that some of those may be reasonably assumed as shared across Northern European or even among Western industrialized nations.  But it may be a rather a misleading assumption that would overly rely on simplifications.

From within a most popular yet also very vulnerable tourist destination, I found the way Iceland has been handling the matter very persistent and it remains a curious aspect that may lead to wider subtle changes also among those visiting.  Iceland’s explicit encouragement to blow the whistle on misconduct is refreshing.   A nation that comprises of only 337,000 residents, yet expects 2.5 million tourists in 2017 simply needs to source its own crowd, more than any other nation, it seems.  It wouldn’t be the first time, as you may have heard, rewriting the nation’s constitution by sourcing the crowd  (Stjórnlagaráð 2011 ) was an attempt Icelanders were willing to make.

Locals, and foreign permanent residents alike, are fond and respectful of the fragile nature and while the weather can be brutal, beating you hard with rain, hail, sleet and strong wind, persistent darkness or daylight – anyone who has been outside the urban borders, in the more remote mountainous areas knows that litter (including human waste) and footprints live on for a long time.

Communicating repeatedly – in English –  that reporting misconduct to the police by noting the number plate and taking photos, is wanted and deemed useful.  Identifying and reporting environmental violations is citizens’ civic duty. Underpinned by media reports of fined drivers, the media coverage highlights, in detail, where drivers have transgressed the rules and how they caused damage to the nature – which could be deemed a way to educate the global public on this specific topic.

In this matter, as often, Iceland shows a pragmatic stance with an absence of passive-aggressive behavior.  Instead, the assertive approach sets clear boundaries and signals healthy collective self-esteem.  Quietly confident, Icelanders know what they want to achieve.  Absent from this picture are also the shaming and blaming, the lamenting and generalizing that can be found in some other countries – and tend to be counter-productive as they trigger predominantly resentment which is ineffective in the pursuit of actual behavioral change.

Culture certainly plays a huge role in handling and discouraging unwanted behavior and any attempts to discourage it or change the collective wrongdoing that groups of tourists may temporarily import.  However, swift and consistently acting upon it, including reporting of fines imposed and meaningful actions taken by the police, such as community service imposed, are underlining the credibility and  the sincerity of the approach.  They leave no doubt that the population is vigilant and protective of its valuable nature, thereby increasing the effective deterrent of penalty to be expected by tourists.

Tourists may come from very diverse socio-economic backgrounds and nations, legislation as to environmental crime may differ widely.  Their communities may place very different, perhaps much lower value on the nature, the natural environment, but also, perhaps on individual human beings as such.  Some tourists may hold lower self-esteem, whether individually or collectively, they may indeed also hold lower self-respect and lack the sense of respect for nature that is so deeply ingrained in the Icelandic culture.  This may not be changed overnight, nor by words alone. But these persistent actions speak louder and they may be one of the few long-lasting souvenirs that tourists take home, even if being fined for destructive driving is  financially painful – and community service  no glamorous fun – it may just stick.

The remarkable aspect is that this is no perfunctory act, not out of compliance with some imposed rule or piece of legislation by some regulatory or supra-national body that has been grudgingly implemented.  Rather, it is out of authentic deep-seated understanding and appreciation of the way Icelandic nature works and human-nature interaction is lived and perceived, how many decades are required in order to grow and restore what has been destroyed in a mindless moment, the blink of an eye.

Objectively considered, it may strike many fastfood-style tourists as an odd thing -realizing that what they have come to see took that long and is that valuable.  If their home is in a city that is scarce of nature and features human-built gardens and parks and very limited communal space, but an over-abundance of traffic and air pollution, too much artificial light and too little respect for genuine human needs, then it might be understandable, yet not excusable, that such behavior occurs.

The way this particular tourist misconduct is being dealt with is:

  • non-passive-aggressively,
  • without blaming and shaming, but
  • swiftly and consistently and
  • appropriately for the purpose of restoration and as collective self-protective measure.

It is an attitude that I hope so see being exported and adapted in other nations.  Reporting misconduct, fraud, corruption and other violations tend to remain negatively connoted, often deemed an act of betrayal rather than of deep loyalty and sense of duty.  Instead of focusing on improvement and whistle-blowing as natural civic duty, reporting misconduct remains in many jurisdictions burdened with layers of bureaucracy, lack of efficient and effective judicial commitment as well as slow and ineffective law enforcement.

Who says that lessons learned from managing tourism risk and blowing the whistle on environmental violations can not be transferred to other areas and industries?

Iceland voted. The world watches – what’s lost in translations?

Following Iceland’s parliamentary elections on 29th October , the amount of international attention, support and scrutiny this event has been achieving is stunning. Far more, it seems, than the early presidential election was attracting, which took place on 25th June this year, in the midst of Iceland’s UEFA Euro 2016 success.

In particular, media coverage by the U.S., the British press and the German media is shaping public opinions.  Depending on their audiences and political standing, the views range from fairly enthusiastic to outright pessimistic.  Nations who have little or no experience with successful governmental coalitions color their coverage accordingly. A good selection of specific articles to gain a flavor in English and German has been reviewed and collected for this article:  The New York Times, Reuters US, the Financial Times UK, the Guardian, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), der Spiegel, die ZeitSueddeutsche Zeitung.  Voter turnout figures can be accessed and compared to previous years via ElectionGuide  and IDEA.

Below: Icelandic daily papers: spilaborg means Kartenhaus in German but its actual reference in this context is House of Cards.


In light of the fact that Iceland hosted about 1.6 million tourists this year and many of them have discovered or renewed their love of the nation, debates across social media are thriving.  In addition, many individuals from pre-election North America. and post-Brexit Britain are declaring interest to immigrate, ask for details and clarifications in social media and take a keen interest in the government formation process.

With an informed estimate of 2 million tourists expected in 2017, paying attention to foreign voices and opinions here is vital.  After all, Icelandic is not the language tourists tend to speak or understand. Salaries, wages and cost of living are often quoted in Icelandic krona (ISK), the local currency, with a rough estimate usually given in Euro or US Dollar. Unfortunately, foreign audiences tend to quickly jump to conclusions, failing to acknowledge that

  1. currency fluctuations are high
  2. the Icelandic living standard including aspects such as the minimum wage, taxation etc differ considerably from other nations such as the U.S. and Britain.

A nation’s reputation can be put at risk by mis-translations and misconceptions which in turn translates into expectations and assumptions incompatible with the actual reality. This in turn may translate into investment risk. In more detail:

A notion of Icelanders voting for an unstable governmental situation could potentially put off investors or pose risks to ongoing and new projects which rely on predictable policies, functional and effective governmental decision-making and dependable leadership.  The ability to borrow at affordable terms (c.f. German Bonds), expressed in a nation’s sovereign credit rating, is central to its functioning in international markets.  Iceland is currently rated A3 with stable outlook by ratings agency Moody’s – a rating that was only upgraded in June 2016 though (c.f. also Iceland’s Central Bank statement in English which does not yet reflect the latest change by Moody’s).

Forming a stable government and being perceived as able and willing to do so efficiently and effectively is not only important for the population of about of 332,000 people who have been enjoying the tourist boom as “a mixed bag” to quote a presenter at the Assembly of the Arctic Circle earlier in October 2016.  Rather, it also plays a role in light of the approved lift of capital controls imposed after its three largest banks collapsed in the financial crisis:

“On 11 October 2016, Althingi passed a bill, introduced by the Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs, amending Act No. 87/1992 on Foreign Exchange. With the Act, which is part of the authorities‘ capital account liberalisation strategy from June 2015, important steps are taken to lift capital controls in full. Controls on resident and non-resident individuals and legal entities will be markedly eased in two steps; first upon passage of the bill on 21 October and second on 1 January 2017.
[…]  Individuals are also allowed to purchase one real estate per calendar year and the requirement that residents repatriate foreign currency has been scaled down. On 1 January 2017, the aforementioned ceiling will be raised from 30 to 100 and transfers of deposits will be permissible subject to the same ceiling.”

Assumptions and mis-translations on the level of connotation rather than denotation belong to the most severe risks organizations and nations, but also individuals, can run. Actively communicating and managing the resulting misconceptions can be extremely difficult as the distortions remain often obscure, subconscious and seemingly minor.

However, they build up over time and as they become repeatedly re-communicated by large numbers they can solidify what would else have remained indeed a minor aspect of conversations uniting numerous non-native speakers.  However, in countries where dubbing of interviews, rather than subtitling, is common practice and audiences are denied access to the original statement, conveying much more than just words, the power shifts towards what the media outlet wants its audiences to hear (c.f. the IceSave debacle most unprofessionally communicated in the British media, BBC newsnight interview ).

As nation, Iceland is fluent in English – predominantly but not exclusively – and versed with linguistic and cultural differences between British and American English as well as the underlying cultural specifics.  Many Icelanders understand or even speak German and are also familiar with national perceptions and particularities.

The reverse does not necessarily apply, though.  Icelanders, in light of their limited number, may be restricted in their efforts and capabilities to correct misconceptions and misrepresentations resulting from language barriers or foreigners’ misconceptions. Icelanders hold different expectations of their business partners and guests, harshly advising them on mistakes or erroneous assumptions is not part of the national mentality. Awareness building and capacity building remain challenges Icelanders will encounter with growing numbers of tourist and virtual visitors.  Reputation risk may move up the priority list and gain a more prominent spot on the agenda, being more actively managed and valued as potential opportunity.

All whistleblowers are the same. True?

“They are in for the money.” “Another disgruntled one.” “They stretch the truth for the dough.” And so it goes on. Grumpy commentary, overheard. Whistleblowers have been given a bad rep – ask by whom -, but is it true and are they really all the same?

One whistleblower withdraws his claim, and leaves everyone guessing, another one turns down a sizable award, and issues his statement of motivation for doing so. Thousands remain unmentioned, though, their cases never hit the headlines.

The US Securities and Exchange Commission boasted in a recent press release to have “awarded more than $111 million to 34 whistleblowers since [the award program’s] inception in 2011.”.  However, on the US Department of Labor’s site the Whistleblower Protection Programs’ data set spanning a ten year period between 2005 and 2015 reveals that more than 15,000 cases were dismissed, another 4,500 plus cases were withdrawn.  In total, more than 26,000 cases were considered and determined. Continue reading “All whistleblowers are the same. True?”

Unfashionable: intellectual property risk

Listen to the think piece

Ethics are and remain rather unfashionable, it seems. Keen to compete and keen to impress, fashion firm KTZ – les enfants terribles behind UK fashion label Kokon to Zai – committed something much more serious than a fashion faux pas.  The global fashion market is approaching USD 2 trillion (Factsheet Feb2015) with severe income inequality knitted into many garment pieces consumers pick and wear.  The UK (Figures 2014) being a key player in this race for fashion hegemony and design dominance.  From a risk perspective, KTZ probably did weigh their chances but failed to consider the role of social media, or maybe they just hoped globalized media sharing wouldn’t really reach that far.  Now litigation and reputational risk are looming large, and subsequent losses have been stamped on the brand. Any press is good press? Not so fast with the marketing myths.

Fashion brands, in fact, the fashion and clothing industry itself, have been plagued for years by its unethical stance and practices. Whether

  • human rights violations and child labor,
  • the range of body image controversies due to anorexic underage models in advertisements and on runways,
  • environmental issues, or in fact,
  • cultural appropriation,

have made the headlines.  Blood diamonds, fur, sweat shops and the rampant – euphemistically framed “borrowing” from indigenous cultures, but also from sub-cultures and powerless individual artists, represent a persistent and severe problem.

As long as celebrities, royals and even the nouveau riche de la politique across the nations, don’t seem to mind, these unethical products find their followers.  They promise that brief moment of fame, the glamor shot, the much desired high, resulting from flattering Likes on traditional and social media, and that little bit of attention in a world that spins around short attention spans.  Short-lived, just like the fashion, handed over to to the charity shop down the road, label still intact, when it’s deemed so last season.

Avoiding plagiarism and being aware of ethical production and consumption standards should by now belong to every consumer’s and citizen’s (or student’s) basic knowledge. The risk to be branded an intellectual property thief, ignorant capitalist or quite generally, belonging to the exploiting (rather than inspiring) brand of entrepreneurs, is simply too high and too expensive to be neglected.  The fashion industry is not entirely unaware of these issues, and in fact, has been attempting to tackle the issues and improve the business and its image for a while (c.f. Ethical Fashion Forum). Sustainability is high on the agenda, governance policies have been drafted – but their enforcement remains unclear.  Counter-plagiarism and ethics enforcement, in particular with respect to intellectual property rights, are not embedded.

KTZ faced a storm of criticism and were fairly quick in issuing what felt like a lukewarm apology. Copying Inuit sacred symbols surely caused an icy blast – apparently relying on a notion that those remote few, discovered only by anthropologists long before the label was even founded, would not find out.

But will it last, or is the brand going to hunt down the next indigenous piece of design, hoping this time to get away with it?  Or worse, will they resort to appropriating symbols whose meaning they may not even grasp but, deciphered by insiders, may stir much worse than a painful offense and hurt to the peaceful Inuit? Copying someone else’s intellectual property and representing it as your own work counts as plagiarism, depending on your perspective you could argue forgery. Luckily, social media sharing facilities mean such kind of attempted fraud incidents stands a good chance of becoming widely visible.

Whether avantgarde fashion or budget micro label, it’s vital to address the lack of speed regarding the legal options in such moments, gaining redress takes time and resources.  Either tend to be scarce goods. However, with increasing technological facilities on social media and image recognition softwar,  the future is promising to hold more power for those whose rights have been infringed.

In the meanwhile, socially and environmentally educated and aware consumers, are making more demands and hope is growing that these crowds will step up and express their critical thinking when making purchases based on informed decisions.

As to KTZ, it remains to be hoped, that their “raw energy and contemporary urban edge” which they are so proud of, finds less disturbing channels.  Perhaps they could bring these characteristics to their much needed reputation and litigation risk management and toy with the idea of going beyond monetary compensation?

This idea is by no means as far-fetched as it may sound.  Up near the Arctic Circle the Alaskan Native people, a group of about 13,500 Inuit have been living for many thousands of years across a vast territory.  Seeing their traditional lifestyle severely threatened by the increasing impacts of climate change, the Alaskan Iñupiat collaborated with video game designers and developed  Never Alone. Their educational video game features documentary-style videos and inter-generational storytelling, making it part of a growing number of indigenous video games that feature atmospheric, story rich and beautiful ways of conveying the narratives, habits, practices and beliefs.  First released in late 2014, KTZ remained unaware of this though, while the Inuit reached out to the wider world to share, KTZ seemed to deem the Inuits in their case too far away to be taken seriously and consult with.

Here is the story of the Shaman whose daughter received KTZ’s apology.

Ethics training doesn’t have to be uncool and it certainly does not have to be boring. Creatively linking the requirement for respect of human rights, the environment and property rights on a global scale is what can set the ethically sound and successful leaders in any sector truly and sustainably apart from the rest of the short-term goal-chasers.

Have you worked with Liam Neeson?

Liam Neeson offers to endorse your skill set on LinkedIn. Nice one, you may think.  Is he qualified to judge? Remind me, where did you meet…?

The strategy is not aimed at being taken seriously, obviously, rather it is a smart marketing tool for the promotion of Taken 3 – a 20th Century Fox production due for release in early January 2015. Watch Liam Neeson offering to endorse your LinkedIn skill set here.

Strictly speaking, it constitutes fraud to endorse another person’s skills if you have neither met nor worked with them (not even remotely) and aren’t really able to say anything about their skill set.  A discussion of the ethics, see also Illinois State Bar Association’s article, of this approach raises interesting questions. Degree deceit is rampant, and some industries are more prone to this type of fraud than others. New Dehli TV reported earlier this year that the Indian marked is struggling with fake resumes, the IT sector is particularly affected (see India Times).

Similar results were found by a UK university (Guardian article) – candidates who had graduated more than 10 years ago were notably more often guilty than more recent graduates of inflating grades. Students who have been found doctoring references on their CVs have been threatened with prison time by the UK Fraud Prevention Service Cifas. They found that it is not students only who embellish their resumes, this type of fraud can also be found among top Executives . Fraudulent CVs are in part at record highs due to fierce and global competition. Recruitment fraud, in terms of re-recruitment due to fraudulent references, accounted for more than GBP 610 million (nearly USD 1 billion) in 2013, the UK National Fraud Authority reports.

Interestingly, 20th Century Fox Film was recently looking for a Corporate Compliance Director, managing forensic analysis and accounting and detecting fraud, the job description is still available on LinkedIn.  Liam Neeson will be keen on avoiding reputational damage and will do his due diligence, I am quite certain.

Ethics – effective and questionable approaches

Today, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) posted a note saying that a former BlackRock Asset Management Managing Director had been deemed unfit for the job (as approved person) due to his repeated failure to purchase a valid travel ticket.  These repeated rather minor acts of cheating, if you like, turned out to be conscious decisions, rather than errors and hence proved the intent.

The consequences were drastic – and probably a very effective way of demonstrating the power of applied ethics and law enforcement.  The individual in question, Jonathan Paul Burrows, was banned “from performing any function in relation to any regulated activities for not being fit and proper”, so the FCA.

Also today, the New York Times DealB%k reported that the Dutch Banking Association had introduced an oath (with variations, addressing aspects of faith) “I swear that I will endeavor to maintain and promote confidence in the financial sector”.  The oath aims to improve the sector’s image and its executives’ behavior – so far only the 90,000 at the top of banks which made headlines with scandals such as Rabobank, ABN Amro or ING Group will be asked to sign the oath, the article states.

While an oath or pledge, as introduced in at least one further bank and common in various other professions such as medical doctors and attorneys, may be seen as a step in the right direction, it clearly is nothing more than one step though.  Pledges or oaths need to be considered in context and therefore, an in-depth understanding of the cultural and sub-cultural particulars (i.e. the corporate culture for instance or the values and practices of an industry) need to be considered.  Apart from this, power dynamics in organisations play a key role in the success of behavioral change campaigns.  Continue reading “Ethics – effective and questionable approaches”