By Sam Sheen, Financial Crime Expert Adviser, Efficient Frontiers International (EFI)
One thing I learnt as a child of British parents were the rules about queuing (or “waiting in line” as we would say in North America). Any place where you must wait and there are 2 or more people present, you are expected to form a line. And there are strict rules about how the line works. One of the major rule violations is to “jump the queue” (or again, as we say in North America, “not waiting your turn”) in order to bypass others ahead of you in line.
The rules about lines apply whether it is standing at a bus stop or waiting at the passport office. Sometimes, you are even given a number in case you forget your place in line. Here in the UK, people generally frown upon others receiving an unfair advantage, allowing them to bypass the inconvenience of having to wait in a line. Others will do their utmost to not play by the rules in order to get to the front of the line or even avoid having to wait in line altogether.
The queuing rules also apply to certain regulatory requirements. Obtaining a licence, authorisation or even an exemption from a government agency often involves an administrative process that is very similar to waiting in line. Sometimes, there are exemptions or expedited processes that can be accessed, but rules about accessing these are usually prescribed under the applicable regulation.
And there are still people who would prefer to either jump the queue or avoid going through these administrative processes altogether. They are even willing to pay others to help them to do so. A financial crime case I recently read is a good illustration of this practice, which also involves a tactic commonly used in trade-based money laundering.
Trade-Based Money Laundering and Invoicing
For those less familiar with this form of illicit activity, trade-based money laundering (“TBML”) is defined by the Financial Action Task Force (“FATF”) as the “process of disguising the proceeds of crime and moving value through the use of trade transactions in an attempt to legitimise their illicit origins”. John Cassara, author a book on the subject[i], explains that in its primary form, TBML revolves around invoice fraud and associated manipulation of supporting documents.
One of the key tactics used in TBML is to “over-invoice”. This involves charging a value for goods or services above what they are worth. This tactic is used when one party owes money to another. The party who raises the invoice (seller) is owed money by the party paying the invoice (purchaser) for some sort of illicit activity.
So, for the sake of simplicity, imagine that Mary is a drug dealer and works for a distributor. The proceeds she raises from drug sales need to be given to the distributor. But Mary knows that going to the bank with cash could cause bank staff to ask questions. So, Mary needs a way to pay her distributor without raising red flags at the bank.
Let’s say that Mary needs to pay to her distributor £1000. The distributor operates, as one of his side business activities, a vegetable nursery. Mary also has a “side” business, or a front company that she has set-up to help her move drugs sales’ proceeds. She has told the bank when she opened a bank account for the company that it was as a small grocery store.
Mary tells her distributor that she has £1000 and deposits the money into the grocery store bank account. The distributor raises an invoice for vegetables that have allegedly been sold to Mary’s grocery store. In the ordinary course, the vegetables would be sold at a price of £20. However, to facilitate the payment of the £1000 drug proceeds, the distributor makes the invoice out for £1020.
When the invoice is paid by Mary from the grocery store account via bank transfer to the distributor’s nursery account, the drug proceeds are effectively transferred, with no direct exchange of cash involved between the distributor and Mary.
There has been a good deal of discussion amongst financial crime prevention professionals about how to detect TBML over-invoicing. But when the activities involve services (i.e. not goods such as vegetables), detection of this can prove to be more challenging. While the average person might find it odd for a vegetable nursery to charge £1020 for a crate to cabbages, it might not be as easy to determine whether the fees charged for some professional services are reasonable and within market expectations.
The following case is an illustration of how a company offered services allowing customers to “jump the queue” to circumvent regulatory requirements, which were paid for using over-invoicing.
In this case a company, P, made illicit payments on behalf of customers that allowed them to circumvent customs and immigration requirements in several different jurisdictions. The scheme involved the payment of bribes totalling over $USD49 million. The company and several of its executives were sanctioned by the US authorities for this illicit activity.
Nature and Purpose of P’s Business
P and its subsidiaries essentially offered an end to end service for customers seeking to import and export goods around the world.
P provided intercontinental air and ocean freight forwarding and logistics and supply chain management solutions. The company was a member of a larger group of companies (“Group”). Overall, P provided these services to over 160 jurisdictions worldwide through several its subsidiaries that were in Nigeria, Angola, Brazil, Azerbaijan, Nigeria, Kazakhstan, Russia and Turkmenistan.
The services provided by P’s subsidiaries included customs clearance and ground shipment services. Representatives of a subsidiary office would often interact directly with local customs officials and arrange for the payment of customs duties, fines and other related fees levied on shipped goods, on behalf of P’s customers.
Nature of Customer’s Activities
P’s customer base was broadly divided across several different industries. They operated in the oil and gas, healthcare technology, retail, telecommunications and chemical sectors. Their engagement of P required that the company essentially act as their agent and broker and ensure that their goods were shipped in a timely manner to the intended destination.
The Queuing Problem and P’s Solution
Some of P’s customers often faced delays in the shipment of their goods. Reasons for these delays included delayed departures from the point of origin or transfer, insufficient or incorrect documentation, the nature of the goods themselves or local officials who refused to provide customs and clearing services without first receiving an illicit payment (i.e. bribe). These problems appeared to have arisen more frequently in specific jurisdictions.
The services provided by P assisted in mitigating some of the causes for these delays but did not eliminate all of them. Some of P’s customers wanted to find a way to “jump the queue”, avoid any delays and have their goods shipped to the intended destination as quickly as possible.
How the Scheme Worked
P agreed to implement a scheme to try and solve the delay problem for their customers. So, think of this as waiting to gain entry to a popular nightclub – you could wait in the queue with everyone else or you can jump the queue by paying the doormen a “tip” to let you to go in to the club and not wait in line. In the P case, the company paid this “tip”, on behalf of its customer to customs and immigration officials in various jurisdictions.
The scheme worked as follows: P would arrange for its subsidiary office in the relevant jurisdiction to pay a cash bribe to customs officials. In exchange, those officials would allow goods to pass customers sidestepping normal administrative processing delays or to accept falsified documentation that would allow more questionable goods easier passage through the inspection process.
Now as the saying goes, there is no such thing as a free lunch and so P’s customers needed to reimburse the company the bribe payments its subsidiaries had made. But this needed to be done so that it was not apparent that the payment was linked to the bribed paid.
So, to be reimbursed for the bribe payments, along with the legitimate services provided, P adjusted the invoices issued to its customers to incorporate the amount paid for the bribe.
P and its subsidiaries used a wide variety of terminology in the invoices to describe the portion of the invoiced amount that related to the bribes. In total, P used approximately 160 different terms to falsely describe the bribes it paid on behalf of its customers. These included “CPC Processing,” “Customs Intervention,” “Evacuations,” “Export Formalities,” “Local Handling,” “Manifest,” “Operational Expenses,” “Pre-releases,” “Special Handling,” “TI Bond Assessment,” and “TI Bond Cancellation.”
In addition to customs arrangements, P also facilitated bribe payments to Angolan immigration officials on behalf of some of its customers. These bribes were paid to circumvent visa and immigration requirements. The bribes allowed the customers avoid fines or deportation of their employees who had overstayed their visas. Bribes were also paid to permit customers to use Angolan military cargo aircraft so that their goods could be transported more quickly to their end destination goods.
P’s subsidiaries who facilitated the bribe payments would raise an invoice combining both fees for legitimate activities and the bribes paid. This invoice would be delivered to the Group’s billing affiliate. The affiliate would then invoice the customer for the total amount, and use the terminology noted above in the line item related to the bribe payment.
Relevance to Customer Due Diligence (“CDD”)
Gone are the days when simply verifying the name and address of a company’s directors will suffice. Financial institutions are now expected to clearly understand the “nature and purpose” of a customer’s business and its expected use of the products and services provided to it. (See paragraphs 4.46- 48 of the Joint Money Laundering Steering Group Guidance – Part I)
The above case provides a useful example of the importance of establishing a clear risk profile about a customer’s business activities, how they are undertaken, and the chain of parties relied upon in delivering its products and services.
If I were to identify one key take-away from this case it would be this: Sometimes CDD procedures must be customised to properly assess the potential financial crime risks of a business relationship. Without doing so, a business could be exposed to the risk of undertaking business with a customer who is indifferent to financial crime risks or considers the complying with regulations designed to mitigate those risks to be someone else’s problem.
And at the end of the day, customers who are inclined jumping the queue are often more trouble than they are worth.
[i]Cassara, J. (2015) Trade-Based Money Laundering: The Next Frontier in International Money Laundering Enforcement (Wiley and SAS Business Series) [Hardcover].
Is Digital Transformation the Key to Business Survival in the New World?
After a turbulent year, enterprises are returning to the prospect of a new world following an unprecedented pandemic.
Around the country the way we interact with customers, how consumers buy, and what interests the public has rapidly changed. Successfully managing these digital transformations may be the difference between your success and failure at this stage of continuing economic uncertainty.
Of course, the investment may appear unviable, but the benefits maintain growth and profitability. Digital transformations change the way you conduct your business. It allows you to take a step back and reconsider every aspect of your business. This includes the technology you use, how your staff operate, and how customers interact with your brand.
The World Economic Forum has predicted that the value added by digital transformations across all industries could be greater than $100 billion by 2025. Digital transformations are allowing organisations to rapidly innovate.
Accepting this innovative approach to your business right now may spell the difference between company liquidation and prosperity. Here, we look at the benefits of digital transformation and why it’s essential for your business.
Transform your customer experience
The main objective for a business is to fulfil the needs of their customer. A positive experience is vital to retain customers and encourage new consumers to interact with your brand. Likewise, positive customer experience is a core principle of digital proficiency.
A recent study found that 92 per cent of the top 100 organisations have a mature digital transformation strategy in place to improve their customers’ experience. This is compared to all other organisations where only 22 per cent of responding companies have these strategies in place.
One way to achieve this is to recreate your e-commerce platforms to better represent the needs of your customers. A complete rejuvenation can help to identify problems and obstacles in your current system.
SMEs have the opportunity to base their digital transformations on the successes of other businesses. In terms of customer satisfaction, 70 per cent of the leaders reported a significant and transformational value in overall customer satisfaction.
Digital transformation can help you to better understand your market. By tracking metrics and analysing the data that you collect, you will be able to better understand your customers. You can also gain a clearer understanding of how the sector operates under varying circumstances. This helps companies to make better business decisions.
One survey on the use of data in business showed that 49 per cent of businesses believe that analytics are of most use in driving business decisions. Two-thirds of businesses surveyed believe that data plays a pivotal role in driving strategies.
There’s a plethora of ways that businesses can collect essential data. These include surveys, transactional data tracking, social media monitoring, and in-store traffic monitoring.
Greater collaboration across departments
By centring your organisation around digital infrastructure you can create a consistent working experience. Sharing data and information with your staff can promote idea sharing and innovation.
Organisations are beginning to create companies based on a digital culture. This shapes the way that staff communicate with each other and how technology influences the way they work. This culture reinforces their other digital strategies.
It’s important to maintain engagement with staff during a digital transformation. One report indicates that 79 per cent of companies that focus on culture sustain strong performance throughout their transformation.
When organisations are built around a common goal, business transitions will be smoother.
Improved agility and innovation
Digital transformations allow your business to stay agile, in that it is always prepared to and welcomes change.
The most successful organisations do not follow the beaten track. They look to see how their company can diverge from their original mission and build on their successes. Technology allows these new approaches to be developed alongside extending business enterprises.
One survey shows that 68 per cent of businesses believe that agility is within their top three most important initiatives. This means ensuring that every interaction between customer, technology, and staff is meaningful.
These agile interactions can include, for example, the development and improvements of chat-bots. It all works towards helping locate the best possible options for staff and customers.
Frequent technological innovations make it difficult to predict what business will look like in the future. Organisations can prepare themselves for this through digital transformations, allowing any future developments and changes to integrate into their business operation.
Being recognised as a digitally transformed business, customers and staff will recognise your attempts to innovate and provide the best possible service. The ability to create additional revenue also highlights the need to adapt to the digital age. The future is showing its face through technology. Businesses must take advantage of the transformed society to change how they operate and reap the rewards.
Virtual communications: How to handle difficult workplace conversations online
Have potentially difficult conversation at work, like discussing a pay rise, explaining deadline delays or going through performance reviews are hard to do successfully under the very best of circumstances. Now many of us are faced with the additional challenges that remote working presents meaning you need to have these kinds of conversations virtually. A little preparation and advance thought about the direction of the discussion can really help to make the interaction feel more natural and improve your changes of a successful outcome.
Tony Hughes, CEO at Huthwaite International leading global provider of sales, negotiation and communication skills development, shares advice on how to handle difficult workplace conversations online.
Plan your communication airtime
Planning for a call can be an unpopular task, but taking a few minutes to think through the structure and purpose of your conversation can really help you to achieve your objectives – assuming you know what they are! Work out your primary, and also secondary objective as a fall back, so you will not have to rely on pressing for just one outcome if that becomes too difficult to resolve in one conversation.
Think about how you will show empathy
It can be difficult to observe someone’s body language over a virtual camera call so tone of voice is more easily interpreted. Listen carefully for clues to how the conversation is going from their tone and note that nerves tend to make the voice higher and this can be very noticeable – a warm drink may help to relax your vocal cords and deepen your voice. Smiling when you speak (if appropriate) will also help to relax you and the other person. If you need to get it all right first time, practice makes perfect. Practicing with a friend of colleague can help to produce the relaxed tone of voice necessary to sound sympathetic or authentic.
Active listening is essential
Listening is what separates skilled communicators from unskilled and using active listening is key to ensuring the conversation goes well. We demonstrate active listening by acknowledging statements. Acknowledging is not the same as supporting, by acknowledging we show we are listening but do not necessarily show agreement. Using phrases such as ‘I understand’, or paraphrasing statements show that we are aware of their opinion and their thoughts without necessarily agreeing with them. Taking care to allow people to fully express themselves, especially if they are agitated or excited, is key to defusing the situation.
If we must disagree with them, we should take care to make a positive statement before and after the disagreement. This means saying things like ‘I fully understand what you’re saying, and will do my best to help. However, I will need some time to investigate the situation. Let me come back to you in X time’.
Remember counter offers can be counterproductive
Communicating online can bring a sense of urgency to get the conversation over with quickly, especially if people are not used to virtual communication methods. This unnecessary pressure can cause people to make hasty, often ill-considered counter offers or proposals in a bid to reach an agreement about the difficult conversation they’re having or to tick the task off our list. Whether this is agreeing to workloads for the week, or discussing a pay rise – rushing conversations and making hasty proposals can be counterproductive and may show you’re not really listening and intent on pushing your own agenda. Good communication is about listening and understanding the needs of others, whilst maintaining a strong stance.
Avoid irritating verbal behaviours
Having a difficult conversation in the workplace is hard enough without the added complication and tensions that communicating virtually may present! Try to avoid adding to this by keeping the conversation free from irritating verbal behaviours. This means avoiding self-praising declarations by using words such as ‘fair’ and ‘reasonable’ when talking to people. This can cause tension as they can undermine the person you’re speaking to and may cause lasting damage to your relationship.
Other verbal behaviours such as telling someone you’re ‘being honest with them’ or ‘that you’re trying to be frank’, can indicate that you may not have been completely honest in the past, or that you may be suggesting your counterpart is being intentionally dishonest. Steer clear of this use of language. It can lead to tension and a breakdown in communication further down the line.
Remember to show emotion
Perhaps surprisingly, skilled communicators show their emotions and indicate how they are feeling towards a situation more than the average communicator. This skill is particularly important what dealing with a difficult online conversation. For example, phrases including ‘I am pleased we are making progress’ or ‘I’m worried that this won’t work out’, can be used as a substitute for an outright agreement or disagreement as it’s difficult to argue with someone else’s emotions. This verbal behaviour also reveals something personal, which is likely to encourage trust within a conversation. If someone expresses that they’re concerned a deadline won’t be achieved – it’s then difficult to retort with ‘no you’re not.’ When used in the right context, showing emotion is a highly effective way of deescalating confrontation.
Ensure you avoid defend/attack spirals
Defend/attack verbal behaviour is when the focus shifts from the problem to the person and the conversation becomes personal. Skilled communicators avoid this behaviour during a difficult conversation, as it can generate frustration and end very negatively. Usually, involvement in a defend/attack spiral is a heat of the moment reaction and it can be tricky to avoid. Difficult conversations tend to be high pressure, so to avoid this behaviour communicators should aim to understand and resolve, rather than react. This allows the conversation to become open and a solution to be achieved harmoniously.
If you want to learn more about how Huthwaite International can help your team develop a highly effective virtual communications strategy visit: https://www.huthwaiteinternational.com/business-performance-solutions/delivery-options/virtual-learning
Brand guidelines: the antidote to your business’ identity crisis
By Andrew Johnson, Creative Director and Co-Founder.
How well do you really know your business?
Do you know which derivative of your logo to use on a pink background? Have you got a preferred font for PowerPoint presentations? Would you be able to look at a range of social posts and pick out the ones from your brand?
If your answer to any of the above is no, it’s probably time to think about your brand guidelines. Whether you’ve already got a set but feel they need a refresh or you’re starting from scratch, it’s crucial to have a firm grasp on your marketing do’s and don’ts.
Consistency makes you memorable
Before we get into the details of what to include, why do you even need brand guidelines? The simple answer is consistency.
Consistency is arguably the most important element of marketing. It makes your brand recognisable and helps you become known for a certain look and feel. Having a consistent brand also builds familiarity with your audience. People want to know what to expect from you. If you’re persistently using the same logos, imagery and tone of voice (TOV), people will start to take note and, over time, become fond of your brand. This is how brands become household names.
What’s more, just because you think you know your business inside out doesn’t mean everyone who joins your team does. For anyone creating marketing materials for your business, brand guidelines are an invaluable tool to ensure everything is in line with your desired look and feel.
Building your brand
Having a set of concrete brand rules will help your company look its best at all times. So, what type of things should you include in your brand guidelines?
- Define your vibe with TOV
Tone of voice is your brand’s personality coming through in words. Do you want to appear funny or serious? Casual or formal? Cheeky or respectful? Enthusiastic or matter of fact? Your TOV will be a blend of these different elements and work on a scale.
In your brand guidelines, you should clearly state “we write like this” and “we don’t write like this”. Are there any words you don’t like? Can you use casual contractions (“you’re”, “it’s”, “can’t”) or would you prefer to take the more formal route and avoid them? Are you comfortable shortening your brand name from, say, “Hyped Marketing” to “Hyped” or should the full name be used at all times?
These are all important things to consider if you want to make sure anyone writing marketing materials for you is on the same page.
- Pick (and stick to) your colour palette
Colours have a remarkable way of evoking certain feelings. For example, blue is often associated with trust, which is why you’ll see banks and hospitals use it a lot. Once you’ve chosen your colour palette, it’s important to stick to it to create a cohesive feel across all materials.
Your brand guidelines should contain CMYK, RGB, Pantone and Hex colour references for each colour in your palette. These references make it easy for anyone producing or printing materials for you to ensure they have an exact colour match — rather than just taking a wild guess!
- Learn your logos
Your logo should reflect what your company does day-to-day and marry together your colour palette and TOV into one little emblem.
Most businesses have derivatives of their primary logo, which should be used wherever possible. Your choice of logo will depend on where it appears. For example, you might use a white version of your logo on a solid colour background or a black version when colour printing isn’t available. Icon logos (with no accompanying text) also tend to be more suitable for social media profiles.
It’s also important that your guidelines include the correct proportions, opacity, colour usage and exclusion zone so that your logo always appears as intended. No one likes a squashed, off-colour logo!
- Tune into typeface
Selecting one or two fonts to be used across all materials is vital for maintaining consistency and expressing your brand personality. Do you prefer serif or sans serif? Sans serif is becoming increasingly popular (particularly for online materials as it’s easier to read on a screen) but serif still has a more formal effect.
In your guidelines, define where these fonts should be used. For example, you might use one for internal communications and another for external or different ones for online or offline materials. It’s also worth choosing one font for headings and another for body copy or sub-headings. Make sure you note which colours from your palette should be used as well.
- Include the right imagery
Elegant copy, snazzy colours and a slick logo are all essential for your brand’s identity. But what about images? It’s key to include a section in your guidelines about the kind of imagery that should be used across your marketing materials.
Do you prefer photographic or illustrative imagery? Should your images feature people? Will you take the photos yourself or are you sourcing them elsewhere? If so, where are you sourcing them from? Get it all written down to ensure all imagery used is in line with the look and feel you want to create.
It’s never too late…
You may be reading this and thinking it’s too late for you to draw up brand guidelines for your company — but it never is.
While it may feel daunting to overhaul the way you produce your marketing materials, progressing with more consistency only cements what works for your brand and helps dispose of anything that doesn’t.
Are you looking to refine your brand and ensure it’s instantly recognisable? Get in touch with us today to learn more about our branding services and how we can help create brand guidelines and a TOV document for your business.
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