More Finance Chiefs Willing to Pay Bribes, Survey Find

Fifteen percent of chief financial officers around the world are willing to make cash payments to win or retain business, according to a survey of executives interviewed by the accounting firm Ernst & Young LLP.

The firm’s annual “global fraud survey” of 400 finance chiefs, interviewed from November to February, found a greater tolerance of bribery compared with the previous year, when 9 percent said they would make cash payments. Five percent of CFOs said they would misstate financial performance, while 3 percent said that the year before, according to the survey.

“One of the most troubling findings of the survey is the widespread acceptance of unethical business practices,” according to the survey released yesterday. “It is particularly alarming that respondents are increasingly willing to make cash payments” and misstate results to survive an economic downturn.

The survey comes amid increased enforcement of the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which bans most payments to government officials overseas, as well as the U.K. Bribery Act and similar measures in other countries. Since 2008, the U.S. has resolved 50 corporate foreign bribery cases, costing companies $3.9 billion in fines and penalties.

1,700 Executives

While companies increased anti-bribery programs, 1,700 executives interviewed in 43 countries expressed “a certain degree of fatigue about anti-corruption compliance initiatives,” according to the survey. Aside from finance chiefs, Ernst & Young interviewed leaders in legal, compliance and audit.

Management is giving mixed messages, meaning “the tone at the top” is diluted by the failure to penalize misconduct, the firm reported. It found that 44 percent of executives believe employees haven’t been penalized for violating policies.

“Even if management is strongly communicating that bribery and corruption isn’t OK, they don’t ever see anyone being punished for that,” Richard Sibery, the firm’s leader of fraud and investigations in the Americas, said in a telephone interview. “There are still some questions about whether there is teeth to company policies.”

Ernst & Young, whose global headquarters is in London, is among hundreds of companies worldwide, including accounting and law firms, that compete for business to advise corporations on complying with anti-bribery laws and conducting internal investigations.

Background Checks

While most of the cases involving corrupt payments brought by U.S. prosecutors and regulators involve third parties working for companies, 44 percent of those interviewed said they didn’t conduct background checks on such entities, Ernst & Young reported.

Overall, 39 percent of respondents said that bribery or corrupt practices “occur frequently” in their countries.

“The challenge is even greater in rapid-growth markets, where a majority of respondents believe these practices are common,” according to the report.

Ernst & Young found that 84 percent of respondents in Brazil, where 50 people were interviewed, said they think that bribery and corruption occur widely in the country.

To contact the reporter on this story: David Voreacos in Newark, New Jersey at dvoreacos@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net

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