GRC for compliance professionals

Compliance as a function is sometimes subject to varying definitions. Across different companies, industries, and cultures, organizational perspectives on the purpose and scope of a compliance program can vary. Some see compliance as an alternative to or close relation of the legal department, while others position it much more independently, perhaps as an intermediary between the business lines and audit. Still others may see compliance as the depository for risk-based support activities that do not otherwise fall cleanly into any other established unit.

As previously discussed on this blog, and as this blog will continue to ensure to express, the autonomy and visibility of compliance is integral to the integrity and sustainability of an organization’s employees and business strategy. Compliance blends a rules-based approach with a values-based approach to reconcile ethical expectations with legal obligations and technical requirements.

Professionals who work with interpreting legal and regulatory guidance and implementing these into business practices will likely recognize the acronym “GRC.” GRC stands for governance, risk management, and compliance. This umbrella term integrates these functions to describe the operational activities undertaken by an organization to execute plans, manage risk, and encourage integrity.

The GRC model refers to process themes, not necessarily functional units of an organization. Indeed, the three themes of GRC may be included in operational tasks and across numerous independent departments, including HR, finance, IT, audit, and at the board level, in addition to the obvious areas such as risk, legal, and compliance.

GRC can be seen as a discipline that seeks to coordinate the flow of information and ownership of risk so that the activities and processes it encompasses are effectively and efficiently incorporated. As organizations become bigger, this discipline becomes all the more important for keeping channels of communication open and clear, both up and down silos as well as across business areas.

Ethical decision-making thrives in an integrated system where objectives are clearly expressed and information-sharing is transparent and relied-upon.   Elevating a coordinated GRC discipline can foster a communication regimen in an organization where reasonableness and feedback rather than heuristics and routine dominate. Equity and integrity can thrive if actions are taken openly and cooperatively rather than in isolation.

In the ever-changing regulatory landscape of modern business, it is so important that an organization’s GRC activities be coordinated so that work is not duplicated or wasted and gaps are filled rather than passed over with tunnel vision. These functions share stakeholders and objectives, and therefore should share information to maximize meaningful impact and minimize redundant effort.

The basic concepts of the GRC approach are all useful for a compliance officer or other professional to consider:

  • Governance: This refers to the management control framework used by an organization’s senior leadership, relying on management information from across the organization in order to direct and control the overall strategy and operation of an organization. This concerns major existential questions for the organization, such as – what are the roles of leaders at all levels? What are the reporting mechanisms and what checks and balances exist for these? How does business strategy translate into directions to various business units and how are these instructions communicated to employees? Having an informed perspective on the organization’s governance objectives is very important for a compliance officer because this gives insight to the tone at the top and the mechanism through which these critical values become concrete practices.
  • Risk management: Risk management is the identification, assessment, and response to risk factors which may have an impact on an organization’s activities. This also includes considering risks which do not have an impact and ascertaining that this evaluation remains correct and current as fluid business objectives and conditions may change. All organizations are subject to some risks, such as operational risk, technological risk, and financial risk, while others may be determined by the industry in which they operate, such as market risk, liquidity risk, political risk, third-party risk, and product-specific risks. Risk management entails planning and implementing controls in order to address these risks, either by mitigating them, changing strategy or practice to eliminate them, accepting them, or transferring them to a service provider or partner who is positioned to best respond to them. Legal, legislative, and regulatory risks are of particular interest to compliance officers, as are compliance-centric risks such as reputational risk. Compliance officers should take risk identification and assessment well into account when planning compliance program objectives so that these can be fine-tuned to the emergent and most important needs the business faces in this area.
  • Compliance: Of course, staying in good standing with supervisory authorities and ensuring that business practices and procedures meet standards and requirements set by external laws and regulations as well as internal policies and procedures, ensures that the work done in governance and risk management activities is properly directed and sufficiently supported. An on-going assessment and prioritization of the compliance program’s effectiveness and appropriateness is necessary to ensure that the controls in place are up-to-date and working as intended.

The themes above are all germane to the objectives of a compliance program and can be referred to in seeking buy-in from senior management or supervisory board members, with whom ultimate responsibility for establishing and executing these systemic processes rests.

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