Highlights of ECOA’s 2012 Sponsoring Partner Forum
By Robert Israel
Keith T. Darcy, ECOA’s executive director, noted in opening remarks that this year’s Sponsoring Partner Forum (SPF) would be an opportunity “for our most senior, dedicated members to convene in a trusting environment to learn from one another.”
This year’s event lived up to that promise, and then some.
From May 8–11 at the Hyatt Regency in Washington, D.C., members met in both formal and informal sessions, affording them numerous opportunities to engage in substantive discussions and, after the sessions ended, to continue their conversations at social gatherings.
Additionally, members gained invaluable insights into the important roles that ethics and compliance practitioners perform. Through the many high-level dialogues, they added to their understanding of how ethics and compliance is practiced globally and at the highest levels of government. An example of this latter point was reflected in specially convened meetings held at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and at the U.S. House of Representatives.
ECOA: A Twenty-year perspective
This year’s SPF, Darcy noted, is also a milestone: ECOA is celebrating its 20th anniversary. In just two decades, he said, ECOA and its membership have achieved significant clout.
A global view on transparency and corruption was presented by Cobus de Swardt, managing director of Transparency International. During a keynote address, de Swardt acknowledged that the passage of two decades since ECOA’s founding is indeed noteworthy for being a catalyst for needed reforms.
“We are living in an increasingly interconnected world, and because of this interconnectedness, we are seeing remarkable transformations,” de Swardt said.
He recalled his experiences growing up in South Africa during a time of apartheid. He said abolishing apartheid was comparative to today’s “momentum to end global corruption in our lifetime.”
“As a young man in South Africa, I saw my own homeland advance toward Armageddon,” he said. “But then change happened. I witnessed the abolishment of apartheid. I cheered as a black man, Nelson Mandela, was elected president of South Africa. I truly rejoiced because my homeland embraced the concept that the color of one’s skin would no longer be a barrier. And so, I believe there is an incredible drive in people to advocate for and achieve social change. I believe this applies to ending global corruption.”
Spearheading change at home
Spearheading ethical changes in government policies was the theme of discussions that took place at the SEC and at meetings held at the U.S. House of Representatives’ Cannon House Office Building on Tuesday, May 8.
At the SEC, Robert S. Khuzami, director, division of enforcement, and Carlo V. di Florio, director, office of compliance, inspections and examinations, spoke about efforts to prosecute wrongdoings and the closing of loopholes used by individuals required to testify. Laws such as the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), as well as the robust efforts of ethics and compliance officers, have had a profound effect on “weeding out rogue employees,” Khuzami said, and helping to bring them to justice.
Khuzami also reported that the SEC has been holding a series of public meetings–one of these meetings was attended by the ECOA’s Tim Mazur, as well as ECOA board members Andrea Bonime-Blanc and Peter Jaffe, earlier this year–to push for wider access to the FCPA’s rules in the form of a published guide. The unprecedented guide will explain the law in lay terms and encourage citizens to report wrongdoings.
In a meeting at Congress, Stephanie Winzeler, legislative assistant to U.S. Rep. Louise M. Slaughter (D-NY), spoke about efforts to lobby for passage of the STOCK Act (Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act).
First introduced in 2009, the STOCK Act requires Members of Congress and staff to ethically report the purchase, sale, or exchange of any stock, bond, or commodity transaction. The STOCK Act, however, was mired in committees that, at one point, Winzeler told ECOA’s members, she thought it might be abandoned. Thanks to efforts by Rep. Slaughter and others, the STOCK Act moved through committees and gained support of President Obama who lobbied for its passage during his State of the Union address.
Winzeler described a detailed, behind-the-scenes view, outlining a painstaking process she and other supporters of the bill undertook to push it forward. Thanks to those efforts, the legislation was finally signed into law by President Obama on April 4, 2012.
Other speakers in the “Meetings on the Hill” portion of SPF included John Buretta, deputy assistant attorney general for the criminal division, and Kevin R. Edgar, chief counsel, U.S. House Committee on Financial Services.
Words of Wisdom
Finally, members were treated to words of wisdom on the enduring role of the ethics and compliance officer by Jeff Benjamin, emeritus member, ECOA Board of Directors, who shared what he termed “three principles to guide ethics and compliance officers” in their careers.
According to Benjamin, the three principles are:
An additional report summarizing additional highlights of this year’s Sponsoring Partners Forum will be posted at a later date.
- Display paramount loyalty, not to any person, but to the institution and its stakeholders.
- Act with absolute integrity all the time, including speaking openly and truthfully no matter what the anticipated reaction.
- Keep in mind the differences among facts, experiences, and stories by keeping an open mind, being patient, and resisting pressure to rush to judgment in the presence of ambiguity—one should reach conclusions only when supported by sufficient evidence.
ABOUT THE ECOA:
The ECOA, now celebrating its 20th anniversary, is a member-driven, nonprofit, professional association exclusively for individuals responsible for their organization’s ethics, compliance, and business conduct programs. Headquartered in Waltham, Massachusetts, its members represent the largest group of ethics and compliance practitioners in the world. For more information, visit www.theecoa.org.