Ethics and Compliance Training: It’s Getting Better All the Time

Susan Eilefson August 21st, 2018

For those of us who work in Corporate America, whether it be at a financial institution or any other company, ethics and compliance training is a familiar, and often mundane, part of our job responsibilities.  Training historically has been designed to ‘check the boxes’ and provide the required information but rarely does it engage the audience. As if this weren’t bad enough, it seems like we are being bombarded with emails and other awareness communications from the compliance department on a regular basis.  What’s with all of the training and communications?  Are we doing something wrong? Take heart!  As our friends from across the pond would say, “It’s getting better all the time.”

Why deliver compliance training at all?

Creating and delivering ethics and compliance training is an important function of compliance departments, particularly in the highly-regulated financial services industry.  Training and awareness is a critical element of having a compliance program that meets the minimum requirements under the US Federal Sentencing Guidelines for an effective compliance program. Banks and financial institutions need to stay compliant with an increasingly growing list of state and federal regulations, such as relevant IRS rules, ethics, fraud, cybersecurity, fair lending, risk assessment, SEC rules, money laundering, and other compliance-related subjects.  These regulations apply to all bank employees − including investment bankers, tellers, operations staff, lenders, management, members of the board of directors, subcontractors and others.  Multiple government agencies, such as the FDIC, SEC, FinCEN, IRS, and the CFPB, enforce these regulations, and as recent banking scandals have shown, they are not afraid to assess millions of dollars of fines against banks for major ethical breakdowns.

The average employee understands that there is a need to be made aware of the rules and regulations relating to specific job responsibilities and the industry. But, it’s also important to note that the average adult learner, for the most part, does not retain training for very long, if at all.  To make required training less tedious and burdensome, many companies are taking innovative approaches to training and communications, including delivering just-in-time micro learning, targeted learning/experiential opportunities, and video discussions and “chats.”

Just-in-time Micro Learning

Companies will always need to deliver annual ethics and compliance training modules covering Code of Conduct basics such as harassment, discrimination, privacy, anti-bribery and corruption, and cybersecurity (just to name a few).  However, many companies are realizing that this annual, “check the box” training simply isn’t enough to land core messages with employees. With 24/7, second by second accessibility to news and the media, delivering timely training and communications is no longer a “nice to have,” but rather a “need to have.”

Global movements such as #MeToo and #TimesUp have forced companies to create and deliver more nimble, concise, “bite-size” training and communications.  These training sessions can be as short as 90 seconds and deliver impactful messages via live action or animated video clips.  Companies use these types of training sessions to not only educate their employees but also to assure them that they are aware of the impact social issues have on the workforce.  Ignorance is no longer an option when it comes to hot-button social issues.  Education and empowerment are now tools of compliance departments everywhere.

Targeted Learning Opportunities

Companies are using a more strategic, targeted approach when creating and deploying ethics and compliance training and communications.  Gone are the days when the same messages are delivered to all employees, in the same way, each year.  Today, companies are tailoring their training and communications based on organizational structure, employee skill sets, and industry best practices.  Training content is designed and delivered with the audience in mind – managers receive different content than their employees; the board of directors receives different content than the rest of the company.

Compliance departments are ensuring that important topics are being discussed on a regular cadence.  A popular mode of delivery is monthly or quarterly manager bulletins.  The idea is to keep ethics and compliance at the top of managers’ minds while providing them with strategies and tools for discussing important industry and issue-specific topics with their employees at team meetings. Employees often receive an email communication alerting them to the fact that their managers will be discussing the topic with them soon, thereby keeping them in the loop and holding managers responsible.  Companies often partner with graphic design and public relations firms to create a branded look and feel for these updates, underscoring the importance the company places on promoting and maintaining an ethical culture.

Video Discussions & “Chats”

Often with ethics and compliance training, it is the Chief Compliance Officer or General Counsel who signs their name to the training or communication.  While this underscores the importance of the training or communication, it does not always create a personal connection with employees.  One way companies are attempting to personalize and land more impactful training and communications is by attaching video discussions or “chats” to the front end.  Introductory videos in which the Chief Compliance Officer, General Counsel, or another guest speaker kick-off a topic is an effective way to entice employees to engage with the material being delivered.  These videos are usually short in length, from 2-3 minutes, and are filmed in the same location each time for familiarity. Employees are responding positively to these video discussions, and companies are exploring new ways to keep them fresh and relevant.

“Better” is Really Here

Because we work in a highly regulated industry, we cannot escape required ethics and compliance training.  However, as the science of learning advances and companies become more invested in ethics and compliance programs, this training is truly getting better all the time.  Take heart and look for creative solutions from your compliance team that will make your compliance training less painful and more productive.

This content is accurate at the time of publication and may not be updated.