Companies need to investigate misconduct that happens at all of their offices. However, geographical lines can often act as barriers to a successful investigation. I was recently reading a report from KPMG, “Cross-Border Investigations: Effectively Meeting the Challenge”, which discusses some of the challenges and remedies for investigators involved in cross-border investigations. As organizations continue to expand their presence overseas, they need to be prepared to handle cross-border investigations – because investigations at home are different than those abroad. Here are just a few of the challenges outlined in the report, along with some suggestions to help mitigate these issues during future cross-border investigations:
1. Access to information and data transfer
Access to information is probably the largest problem investigators face during cross-border investigations. By the time investigators travel to the investigation destination, the information/evidence could be destroyed. The KPMG report discusses the fact that document and information retention laws are different than those in North America – if they are even in existence at all. Investigators need consent before accessing information located overseas. In some countries, data can’t be transported out of the country at all. Here are some suggestions from the report:
- Understand the rules and regulations regarding gathering, transporting and storing data across borders
- Preserve the integrity of the data. Establish a protocol that’s implemented consistently across an organization to give credibility to the results of an investigation.
- Provide training to all employees about electronically stored information policies and procedures – as well as data privacy laws.
- Stay up-to-date on amendments made to international data privacy laws and make sure they are reflected in your procedures.
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2. Lacking investigation process
In some organizations, the time hasn’t been taken to sit down and develop a protocol for conducting internal investigations – let alone investigations that take place overseas. You can’t sit back and wait until an incident occurs. Companies can’t afford to delay an investigation while waiting for investigators to learn the ins and outs of the legal landscape overseas and develop a plan of action. The KPMG report offers some guidance for the first steps to take during a cross-border investigation (for the full list, view the report):
- Assess the business’s global investigation capabilities and benchmark them against recognized best practices.
- Assess the organization’s investigation competence and adequacy of protocols at the highest levels of the organization.
- Have a single, global point of accountability for responding to suspicions or actual incidents of fraud and misconduct.
- Prepare resources based on the uniqueness of cross-border fraud and misconduct issues.
- Consider developing a written incident-response document.
3. Legal differences
Different countries have different laws and business practices. In some countries, different laws apply to different groups of people. Investigators need to do their homework and become familiar with these laws before an investigation begins. When government officials are under investigation, it can be difficult to get assistance and cooperation from the local government. To handle different laws pertaining to evidence collection, the KPMG report suggests developing a strong understanding of maintaining privacy and protecting confidentiality of information and the people involved in the investigation. The report also suggests building close relationships with local officials, as these relationships can make or break an investigation.
4. Cultural differences
In a lot of countries, there are “unwritten rules” about how business is done. This means that the way business is done at a company’s headquarters is going to be different from the way business is carried out at overseas offices. An obvious cultural barrier is language and communication. This barrier is often overcome by hiring multilingual staff, translators or local professionals that have all of the necessary investigation skills.
Non-verbal communication can also get in the way, as many non-verbal tendencies that might lead you to think someone is lying could simply be a cultural characteristic. For example, in North America, some people have a hard time looking you in the eye when they tell a lie. In other countries, it might be considered rude to look someone straight in the eye. Become familiar with these tendencies so that you don’t make the wrong assumption. There are a number of other cultural differences that must be researched and taken into consideration during cross-border investigations.