The current financial crisis has brought many failings to the forefront, none more so than the failings of the Corporate Governance framework in businesses. The Corporate Governance framework allows for both business objectives and ethical drivers to be incorporated into a business whilst seeking to protect both the Business, its stakeholders and investors or customers. Are failings in Corporate Governance solely as documented in the newspapers and media reports down to the Board’s greed and disregard for its stakeholders, or was the compliance framework in these businesses defunct by opaque reporting by key functions?
We have been lucky in Guernsey to have been insulated from the crisis at large, but I know from experience and we all know from the Commissions industry presentations that Corporate Governance is a key regulatory theme that will be assessed on their regulatory visits to licensees, to assess the risk and reward culture of a business and assist in mitigating these risks successfully. While it has been acknowledged by the Commission that they believe that this is a healthy area, could there be licensees that have put together a good document but the statements made by them do not resemble their Business or their Business’s current prudential business plan or their current regulatory compliance status?
What must be remembered is that any Corporate Governance assessment undertaken by the regulator on a licensee will look at a multitude of documents and reports that make up the core of any Board meeting, such as compliance reports, risk mitigation, internal audit as well as the business plan. These reports must be factual, clear and concise and encompass the whole status of the business in order that the directors can evidence their oversight and rationale for their understanding of the business. Theses documents and reports must all fall into the Corporate Governance assessment by the Board of the Business.
Has the Board questioned the effectiveness of its compliance framework, from the Compliance monitoring programme to the actual board reports it receives? Has the Board allowed the compliance function and other key functions to provide an independent review or are these key functions in fear of upsetting the Board and reporting only what they deem the Board should know or focus on? The importance of independent, full and factual reporting by these key functions is of the up most importance. It is vitally important that those of us who undertake these key roles provide effective reporting on all areas of the Business so that the Board can discharge their obligations successfully. We must not be in fear of providing reports that show areas that require action or gaps as by doing so we only assist the Board in becoming ineffective.
I have been privileged to have worked for and with Boards who have proactively sought to allow their key functions to independently report to them allowing the Board to successfully document and encompass their key functions in to their Corporate Governance framework. This has assisted the Business in the formulation of strategy, goals and effective work practices. For those licensees who I have assisted in remedial work in this area, though it has been hard to start off with the end result has been commented on by these Boards as being beneficial to their Business, optimising understanding and discussion on current and future business opportunities, obligations and assisting in evidencing of why certain opportunities were not followed up.
In my experience the failings in a Business’s Corporate Governance framework are down to opaque and ineffective reporting by the Business’s key functions leading to the blind following the blind. Where ineffective compliance reporting or monitoring has been identified during a regulatory visit the Board are often criticised and this is generally reported by the Commission as a failure in Corporate Governance. While the business of the Business is vital the understanding of the Board as to its current regulatory compliance is as important and cannot be underestimated. If the Board are aware of issues that require to be enhanced or remediated it can deal with them, most of the time hand in hand with fulfilling its business objectives, but to be effective the Board must have the oversight by effective reporting.
The culture of Corporate Governance must not be seen as a tick box exercise or as a regulatory obligation that serves no practical use to a business. I would advocate that a good culture need not be expensive in time or cost but rather a tool to optimise the Business for all stakeholders. As stakeholders move from being passive the need to document and show your culture of Corporate Governance becomes more of a focal point in the overall success of your Business and its cost effectiveness, and in the next few blogs I will go more in to detail on this. An effective Corporate Governance framework adds to safeguarding a business by requiring effective reporting from the key functions allowing for the dynamism and entrepreneurial spirit that has become part of our industry to be exercised by the Board in the continual development of its products and services.