When thinking about white collar crime, certain names come to the forefront of our mind, such as Bernie “King of the Ponzi scheme” Madoff or Martha Stewart’s insider trading; however, in terms of damage done, the primary people affected were the individuals themselves or those who, knowing the risks, willingly chose to invest. On the other hand, when discussing corporate crime, there is easily the potential to affect all stakeholders, from employees to shareholders to the entire industry. Below are some prime examples of the damage that can be done when there is a breakdown of communication and oversight at the corporate level.
- Société Générale banker Jerome Kerviel artificially created losing trades on paper to offset gains made illegally for the bank. Within 3 years’ time, the paper loss he (and potentially others) had created reached a staggering USD 7 billion.
- Several years’ worth of unauthorized trades by Nick Leeson and a stock market downturn spelled the end of 233-year-old Barings Bank, where Leeson left behind losses equalling twice the firm’s trading capital and an apology note.
- It’s not just about banks though: WorldCom CEO Bernie Ebbers decided to make the company look good and achieve a higher stock price after a failed merger. Internal audits showed USD 4 billion worth of creative accounting that resulted in USD 11 billion of imaginary assets, with fallout leading to 5100 lost jobs, worthless stock portfolios, and bondholders only receiving 35% of their value.
- Finally, there is the case of Martin Winterkorn, CEO of Volkswagen AG previous to and during the 2015 emissions cheating scandal, where Volkswagen intentionally programmed the engines of 11 million TDI vehicles to give inaccurately low emission results during testing.
While all these cases expose different facets of corporate crime, the commonality that they share is a lack of communication, oversight, and compliance. On their own, they elicited calls for greater oversight and regulation, but it wasn’t until after the great recession that the system actually began to change. In the UK and the USA, the Banking Reform Act and, respectively, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, has given the government more supervision of banks, increase liquid asset reserves, imposed higher standards of conduct in business, and sought to separate banking activities to protect consumers. Outside of banking, we’ve also seen (in the USA) the Department of Justice issue the Yates Memorandum and update the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act of 1977 guidance document, both of which (as with many other countries) place the onus of reporting issues on the companies themselves.
Condensing this down to a single company, it means possessing the ability to communicate openly as well as oversee all internal interactions, regardless of office location or language differences. Looking outward, this means possessing the ability to work constructively with multiple jurisdictions and regulatory agencies in order to demonstrate compliance.
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