A Q&A session with Nina Gross, BDO Consulting Managing Director, Global Forensics
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Can you tell us about your background and experience prior to joining BDO Consulting?
I am an attorney by training, but a forensic accounting consultant by trade. Previously, I spent 24 years at Deloitte, leading the Washington, DC Financial Advisory Services Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) consulting group. However, I started this stage of my career when I was appointed as Director of the Office of Legislative Affairs at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission three decades ago—a time that was marked by a lot of change and turbulence. The financial markets were experiencing significant unrest at the same time as innovations and advancements were being made through technology-driven trading platforms. It was a very exciting time—one that I strongly believe gave birth to the business environment we live in today, where people understand the importance of and believe in the transparency of orderly markets. Ultimately, these shifts and innovations prompted corporations to understand their regulatory and legal risks.
What do you see as the top trends and considerations that organizations should be aware of in the global forensics space today?
I have been fortunate enough to witness nearly every evolutionary turn in the anti-corruption and anti-fraud space since the '80s, and the current cycle is one that is largely impacted by the global business environment. Whether you are a U.S. company operating overseas, European company operating in the U.S., or a Chinese company operating in Africa, you face risks related to labor issues, environmental issues, human rights and, of course, corruption. Therefore, corporate governance and compliance on an international scale is increasingly a business imperative. Evaluating third-party vendors and services providers, conducting due diligence (and knowing what is enough), assessing and testing internal policies, procedures and transactions, and monitoring employees and business partners can help you mitigate your risk of fraud and anti-corruption violations. It’s not easy—for any size organization—but it’s doable.
In such an environment, it's important to ask the right questions to be able to navigate anti-corruption and fraud challenges: do I understand what is happening on the ground in different parts of the world where my company operates? And, am I adjusting to the way business is conducted in that part of the world? For example, whistleblower policies can be quite effective in the U.S. and Europe—employees will pick up the phone and report malfeasance. However, it is less common in certain Asian cultures for people to report on others, especially a supervisor. Being sensitive to these cultural nuances will make for more effective corporate governance policies and practices across your company and allow for easier implementation. At the end of the day, it’s really all about knowing and managing risks in a practical and efficient way.
From your perspective, what are the consistent gaps in how organizations manage their exposure to international anti-corruption and fraud compliance?
Unfortunately, it's not a one-size fits all response. The gaps will differ by the size of your company, its position as public or private, the countries in which you operate the use of third parties as well as your interaction with government entities, and several additional factors. For example, the pharmaceutical and medical device industry has had to endure heavy scrutiny by the U.S. government under the FCPA. As a result, most large pharmaceutical companies have robust anti-corruption programs in place and proactively monitor their risks. The same may not be true for companies in other industries that have not faced as much scrutiny.
However, there are certain best practices that can be applied across industries to mitigate FCPA exposures and fraud violations, including investing in a robust legal and compliance office and encouraging collaboration between finance and legal, so that they can not only examine the risks, but also test and monitor them. A third critical component to FCPA risk mitigation is the involvement of the board and CEO. Employees and executives alike respond to the tone at the top.
We understand that in a previous role you established an anti-corruption academy, where you traveled around the world working with member firms in an educational capacity. Can you talk a little bit about this experience?
For a long time, I have been an advocate of increased anti-corruption awareness and training of boards and senior management who I believe play a vital role in anti-corruption risk management. Regulators as well as compliance professionals frequently refer to the term “tone at the top,” but we still need to do more to help “the top” understand the business imperative of managing corruption risks.
The anti-corruption academy that I helped to spearhead focused on training boards and senior management at organizations around the world on international and country-specific anti-corruption issues and regulations. It was our mission to help bridge the anti-corruption knowledge gap at the top of organizations.
What do you like most about the work you do at BDO?
It’s a combination of the people and our global platform. In joining BDO, I was struck by its collaborative and open culture—we don't work within siloes, and we are collegial in practice. There is an emphasis on sharing information and experience across the firm, which benefits our clients as well as our professionals. We are an agile and efficient accounting and consulting organization with an extensive global reach, and we are committed to not only providing exceptional client service and quality work, but also to mentoring our people to support their professional expertise and careers.
Nina Gross leads BDO’s Global Forensics practice in Washington, D.C., having 30 years of forensic accounting, investigation and consulting experience working with multinational organizations and their counsel. Ms. Gross has significant experience assisting clients in responding to sensitive investigative matters, as well as advising organizations on compliance, due diligence and anti-corruption programs designed to deter and prevent the recurrence of fraud. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.