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With Ethics and Compliance Programs, It’s All a Matter of Time

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted every individual and industry in unique ways, and that is undoubtedly true for ethics and compliance professionals. We know your battle for resources is as challenging as it’s ever been.

For a group of people responsible for understanding the risks impacting business and working cross-functionally to mitigate them, and train people on them, something unexpected of this magnitude does not make their jobs easier.

Yet, amidst all the change and uncertainty, there are expectations to remain effective, bounce forward, and not lean on crisis circumstances as an excuse for non-compliance and unethical business conduct.

According to a June 2020 survey published by the Society of Corporate Compliance and Ethics (SCCE), Compliance and the COVID-19 Pandemic, there is an alarming dual trend of budgetary pressure as well as an increase in inquiries to the compliance team. The survey results include responses from more than 300 E&C professionals around the world.

The majority (59%) of E&C professionals are now exclusively working remotely, feel that transition has gone better than they’d expected, and believe collaboration across legal, HR, leadership, the Board, and core business units are either level or increased. But three charts represent a cause for concern. Red flags in an internal risk assessment, you may even say.

  • 36% of compliance teams have seen their budgets decrease, with only 7% experiencing any increase.
  • Meanwhile, 77% have “expressed significant concerns” of an increased risk of compliance failure, and 35% have seen an increase in overall compliance inquiries.
  • Even in instances of budget stability, the increase in risks and inquiries creates the challenge of doing more with the same.

When you cut through the data and get to the heart of the challenge these teams are facing, I believe it boils down to this: Ethics and compliance professionals have less time and money but more risks and responsibilities.

SCCE: Budget Change in Compliance Programs

SCCE: Risk of Compliance Failures

SCCE: Change in Number of Compliance Inquiries

Does this mean these individuals and their teams must be more conscious and thoughtful about the next steps they take, specifically regarding where they spend their budgets and energy?

Managing risk and pursuing the ever-changing goal of “compliance” with regulations, policies, and cultural expectations is a balancing act. COVID-19 and the other challenges that 2020 has presented are like walking a tight rope in a tornado.

Every Pound (or dollar) and minute spent on one problem isn’t just a conscious choice to devote resources to one element of a program; it’s a decision to deviate from another. So, what should you do yourself and what you should entrust to others?

In 2019, SAI Global surveyed a global group of E&C professionals for a benchmark and best-practices report and asked two specific budget-focused questions to establish how compliance professionals spent their budget. Pre-pandemic, traditional online learning experiences, and shorter incarnations, along with workshops and meetings led by managers and facilitators, are the four most common forms of training in ethics and compliance programs.

At the time this data was collected (June – December 2019), 50% of participants purchased the online training components of their program externally and “off the shelf,” with 20-25% purchasing it externally with customizations, while the remaining 20-25% built that content “in-house” using their internal teams and resources. The vast majority of the workshop and manager-led meeting materials are developed in-house. Down the road, it appears the general intention from many organizations is to decrease their budget for outsourced compliance training and increase their budget to produce content in-house.

SAI Global's E&C Benchmark Survey Results: Budget Investment

In the post-pandemic economy, what I am seeing across our ethics community now is a general intention from many organizations to maximize what budget they have, and that outsourced compliance training is playing a big part in lightening the load. Drivers for this include:

  • The need to move away from face-to-face training to meet new remote working practices.  
  • Reduced resources in learning and development or ethics and compliance teams and not being able to call on subject matter experts within the business to help create content. 
  • Just-in-time training to meet changing demands. Off-the-shelf content means an organization can respond in an agile way and quickly get training out to their workforce.    

Given the competing interests and priorities that compliance teams seem to be facing now, whatever path you may choose to take, I hope it involves SAI Global’s help. Not acknowledging some level of bias in this conversation would be inauthentic. However, the data is the data, the trends are what they are, and the work that goes into building a piece of training content for an ethics and compliance program is significant.

  • You will need instructional designers and legal experts to write the content, ensure it is technically accurate and well-structured, and meet any core regulatory requirements around the risk-topic an experience is designed to address and your business goals.
  • You will need graphic designers to transform the written experience into a visual one, and some technical prowess and in-house platform to host and deliver the experience.
  • You will need in-house teams to test and QA the content to ensure it works properly and records the data and information you need to capture. 
  • If you intend to use any media, video or audio, you can likely capture and create that on your own, but its quality will vary based on your in-house talent and editing abilities.
  • If you deliver training to offices in different countries, you’ll need translation specialists to convert each experience into the localized language and tone. You’d be surprised how much context can be lost here by relying solely on Google Translate or a similar free service.

There is a level of expertise and trial and error with these processes that will significantly impact the quality of the final product. Given all the time you don’t have, and all the things you need to do, I would caution that choosing “in-house” as the option for building online training for your ethics and compliance program may not be the most efficient or effective path.

Work smarter – as I am guessing you are already working harder. 



In the past 12 months, SAI Global has built over 100 new online ethics and compliance learning experiences and helped organizations worldwide launch 1,200+ multi-lingual, customized types of risk-based and values-based training to their workforce. We’ve been doing this for over a decade. If you want to learn how we can help your E&C team approach the challenges it may be facing and plan for whatever comes next, contact us today


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