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Why every advisory firm needs a chief ethics officer

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A “culture of compliance” of course has many benefits, chief among them keeping a firm’s principals out of court, or worse, jail.

It saves in litigation fees and judgments and, less overtly, auditors are more likely to let the little things slide if advisors can demonstrate that organized compliance policies and procedures are in place. Which is all great, but the main reason for a strong culture of compliance has a critical ethical component—to protect the client.

It’s why creating the positon of Chief Ethics Officer might be preferable to the position of Chief Compliance Officer that many firms currently have in place. If the advisor is truly ethical, then they’re compliant as well.

Let’s compromise; we’ll add one more person to the company C-suite and create the position of Chief Ethics and Compliance Officer (CECO). It’s something that popped up on in a story by Michael Volkov on the compliance and ethics trends for 2015.

Beginning with the business benefits of a culture of ethics; he argues it can quickly move a company “from neutral to a high gear where productivity and performance can improve,” according to the article. “Rather than responding to the risk of the day, the company can adapt its existing ethics and compliance program with improvements that have lower marginal costs than those risks that have to be addressed by a company with a deficient culture of compliance.”

The article then discusses the aforementioned CECO, and specifically their role and responsibilities, which it states is still being defined in many companies, but “expects to see CECOs embrace even more responsibilities and assume a higher role in the corporate governance landscape.”

The article states that to many in the business world, the CECO profession lacks a professional discipline, which is true, since many in the industry are only now hearing about it, ourselves included.

“The CECO profession needs to focus on this issue,” according to the story. “Until there is more definition, business leaders are likely to resist the institutionalization of the compliance function in their organizations. As a result, business leaders will look for short-term results and improvements without recognizing the long-term investment and benefits of a robust ethics and compliance program and the profession that supports and promotes such a culture.”

CECOs have to focus on risky interactions and culture, Volkov concludes, and that requires new technologies for monitoring, auditing and surveying.

“This is where the cutting edge of the profession should be defined. Too many vendors are focusing on traditional measurements – they need to work with the compliance profession to define and support the new era of compliance metrics. That process will continue in 2015.”


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