Irish organisations put increased spotlight on corporate integrity standards

Irish organisations put increased spotlight on corporate integrity standards

John Higgins, EY Partner Cork: Taking steps now to address perceived gaps will help businesses meet rising customer, employee, and societal expectations.

THE disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent emergence of hybrid working models have highlighted the importance of corporate integrity for Irish businesses over the past 18 months, according to a new report published by EY Ireland.

According to the EY Global Integrity Report, 90% of Irish respondents indicated their organisation has measures in place to promote integrity and ethical behaviour, with a further 80% noting they either frequently or occasionally hear their management speak about the importance of behaving with integrity.

While the report is promising overall, some of the key findings indicate there is still more work to be done.

Only 54% of Irish organisations have a code of conduct for employees on how they should behave in business;

Just 44% provide regular training relevant to legal, regulatory, or professional requirements; and Only a third (30%) provide training on ethics and integrity in business or professional life.

John Higgins, Partner in EY Cork explained: “While further progress on individual measures is needed to promote integrity and ethical behaviours in Irish organisations, this should also be seen as an opportunity.

“Taking steps now to address perceived gaps will help businesses meet rising customer, employee, and societal expectations, thereby enhancing their reputation, protecting their brand, and building long-term sustainable value.”

Ethical Standards: This sentiment is reinforced throughout the report, which found there to be an increased appreciation amongst employees that businesses are being held to higher ethical standards than ever before.

80% of those surveyed said the standards of behaviour that employees expect from management have increased significantly in recent years, with a further 84% claiming they believe the general public in Ireland has higher expectations than before when it comes to how people should behave at work.

That said, the impact of the pandemic has not been without its challenges for organisations especially when it comes to remote working.

While hugely beneficial overall, it can also be easy for employees to become disconnected from the core culture of an organisation and fall into poor working habits.

Similarly, there may also be a risk that distance from the organisation could result in a disinclination to report perceived integrity issues.

Julie Fenton, EY Ireland Global Operations Leader for Forensic and Integrity Services said: “Irish organisations have had to rethink their operations, their business models and how their people work.

“They now need to apply the same innovation capacity to rethink their compliance models and risk management processes.”

The impact ‘of’ and ‘on’ data The other major implication remote working has had for organisations, and in particularly accelerated digitisation, is the volume of data now held within the organisation.

While data analytics technology can uncover anomalous behaviours and events that may otherwise go undetected, managing a company’s intellectual property with a largely remote workforce presents challenges when it comes to data security.

A quarter of Irish respondents knew little or nothing about policies on using personal devices for work purposes in their organisation.

The risk that arises, whether from accidental leaking or theft of data, is heightened in a remote environment.

“Organisations need to treat the heightened regulation of data along with the growth in the volume of data held as an opportunity to tackle fraud rather than a threat to their business. They can use their data to uncover irregular or potentially fraudulent behaviour very quickly,” observed Julie Fenton.

This is particularly relevant given the survey found that 10% of Irish companies responded that they had experienced what they described as a significant fraud during the past 18 months.

Embedding Compliance in Company Culture As with almost every other aspect of business, culture trumps strategy every time.

When it comes to integrity this means that having processes in place to monitor and enforce behaviours and standards will only go so far.

It is, therefore, also necessary to nurture a culture of integrity that pervades the organisation at every level. Encouragingly 66% of the Irish respondents agreed that compliance is always considered when making important decisions within their organisations.

“Successful compliance programmes are no ‘one size fits all; they are cognisant of the cultures and business environment where activities take place. A progressive integrity agenda goes beyond frameworks and policy – businesses must look beyond box-ticking and focus on creating an integrity culture at all levels within their organisations. Leaders should be under no illusion that integrity is an easy fix. However, the first step is setting the right tone from the top,” said John Higgins.

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