I can’t believe I’m writing (yet another) column on: Compliance vs. Ethics

I can’t believe I’m writing (yet another) column on: Compliance vs. Ethics

Donna Boehme – Compliance & Ethics Professional – March 2014


More than 10 years ago, I sat on a panel at one of the early compliance and ethics conferences in London and listened to my two fellow panelists debate “rules vs. values” and “compliance vs. ethics.” At the time, I shared my view that this was a false choice and that any effective approach must integrate both elements because (1) compliance without ethics would become a technical check-the-box “policeman” without the necessary behavioral drivers, and (2) ethics without rules-based compliance would become the irrelevant “coach” without any enforcement muscle. It’s not rocket science, but at the time, you would think it was!

Is there anyone who thinks that companies should have one without the other? Not a one would admit it, but there are definitely many firms out there that focus mostly on one and give lip service to the other. Take a look at the big banks, which after a perfect storm of mortgage fraud, LIBOR rigging, money laundering and other legal woes, have recently “discovered” incentives and clawbacks. That should give a hint of the historical priorities in that industry. Culture matters, and you don’t get there with compliance or ethics alone. As the saying goes: “You can’t get there from here” (add your own Northern Maine accent) which according to the Urban Dictionary means “The place is remote and the route is hard to describe.” 

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