Conflicts of interest (COI) occur when an employee must choose between the financial interests of the company and their own personal benefit. Over the years, I’ve worked COI investigations ranging from minor issues like providing rental houses for remote employees to creating a company and approving purchases and invoices.
When I first address these investigations, I wanted to know whether they disclosed the conflict, perhaps when they were hired, or to their manager, or during the annual Code of Conduct Certification. The answer to this question determines the initial tone of the investigation. If the employee disclosed it and their supervisor knew, then what steps were taken to properly manage the conflict? Most of the time, it means that an additional approval step should be taken to review purchases and pricing for reasonableness. Sometimes it results in a formal letter requiring the employee to make a choice between their outside business and the company. It might require additional management training.
But what if the employee hasn’t disclosed it? This is where it gets messy. Why did they hide it? How much money was paid out and were the services or products delivered? The investigation takes on a completely different tone when the conflict comes as a surprise to management. In the facilities example above, I downloaded all the vendor master files and used IDEA to perform duplicate testing on the bank accounts to find the additional companies involved. Then all the invoices and payments in the facilities cost center were analyzed to determine the extent of the pricing markups and duplicates. In the end, the case was determined by the courts to be an egregious conflict of interest and both employees pleaded guilty and served time.
IDEA is an essential tool used to perform data analysis to detect conflicts of interest. The most fundamental test is to use the join and duplicate functions to match the vendor master and the employee HR master file by bank account, tax number, address, and/or phone numbers. The results will be surprising.
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