After a year of writing Inside Compliance, I’ve come to believe that a compliance officer with a solid spine may be among the most valuable people in the world.
During my two decades as a journalist, I’ve reported on an ex-con, underground mixed-martial artist, who happens to be gay, in a world of near-naked fighting men who frown upon homosexuality; a billionaire art dealer’s son and wannabe-hoopster who makes bad bets; and a noble architect integral to designing the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History.
For this past year, I’ve covered the world of compliance for Inside.com. And what a world. It’s mainly corporate malfeasance that makes the news. I covered this world from afar – from my laptop, as I scoured search engines general news outlets, including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, Reuters, and Associated Press. I soon discovered the niche providers – Compliance Weekly, JD Supra, and a few others. Then, I circled back to the search engines and entered "fraud.” There’s never a dull week.
The banks are always in trouble. Wells Fargo with its fake accounts, was under the sharp eyes of Sen. Elizabeth Warren again this week. Deutsche Bank has been recovering from a Russia-related scandal and now finds itself implicated in the spotlight again over its dealings with deceased sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. Meanwhile, the fallout never stops for Danske Bank and its Estonian branch, which laundered more than $200b of shady (largely Russian) money. How is there not yet a movie about this infamous Estonian branch? But more likely than not, the scheme only involved humorless bureaucrats and doesn't lend itself to the DiCaprio stardust that landed on the much sexier, still newsworthy, 1MDB scandal.
The banks are low-hanging fruit. As are pharmaceutical giants (such as opioid-pushing Purdue Pharma) and Big Tech, which is falling afoul of new data privacy laws in Europe and California, and this week played humble before Congress.
But I went out of my way to look for less-covered compliance missteps. Among them: Well-heeled Brown University cutting sports teams in possible violation of Title IX. There were many environmental misdeeds. The Trump administration has presided over a full-on assault on Obama-era regulations, including vehicle fuel-efficiency standards. And I kept a close watch on international news, such as rule-breaking deforestation in Indonesia.
What I noticed above all is that it’s only the lawbreakers who regularly make the news. Every so often, there’s an SEC or Justice Department public notice of an anonymous whistleblower award – and sometimes the reporting party is a compliance officer. But mostly its run-of-the-mill fraud or insider dealing that makes the headlines time and time again.
Presumably, thanks in large part to compliance officers, there are scandals that are headed off before they make the papers. And it's to these officers whom I dedicate my final Inside Compliance entry. Keep doing the vital, mostly unheralded work.