"Global attention on fighting corruption is intensifying" was one of the conclusions at a CIMA seminar  at St Paul's cathedral held earlier in April. The introduction of the UK Bribery Act is part of this "crest of a wave" and the growth of anti-corruption initiatives and focus on ethical business are evident everywhere. "Call to end corporate corruption" read the headlines in the Malaysian press the day I was presenting on ethics at a CIMA event in Kuala Lumpur.
The headlines referred not to our breakfast meeting, apt as they were, which brought together the business community, academics and students to discuss the importance of integrating ethics into strategy, but to the introduction of the Corporate Integrity Pledge and the Anti-Corruption Principles for Coorporations in Malaysia. One of the early signatories, Air Asia CEO Tony Fernandes, was quoted as saying "a corrupt environment means the best may not succeed, the most expensive may succeed and the worst quality may succeed". In sum, corruption is bad for business and for society. Ultimately it has negative impact on the efficiency of the overall economy.
The Malaysian initiative is backed by five key law enforcement agencies. Together they are encouraging the public to also fight corruption  - with the rallying call from their mascot Agent Lang - an eagle with "an uncanny ability to spot and eradicate corrupt practices" and who is always ready to "jump into action using his twin swords capable of cutting through any type of corruption". Agent Lang would be a valuable addition to certain corporate boards and indeed business teams, operating in high-risk areas. Sadly, it may be that a number of governments worldwide would benefit from his "burning desire to see integrity prevail".
( image from www.thestar.com.my )
At a more practical level, integrity was the focus during discussions around finance business partnering in Singapore a couple of days later. Following on from the production of a report in London on the theme of "Fact or Fiction - the independent business partner", the roundtable sought to explore what opportunties and challenges finance transformation is creating with particular regard to the independence and objectivity of the finance function and its professionals in the wider Asian context.
Many of the conclusions, unsurprisingly, were the same as in Europe - not least that professional integrity is valued, and independence and objectivity brings value and credibility to projects, business cases and decisions making as well as safeguarding the wider interests of the business. Overall, an ethical buisness culture is necessary. Without this and strong leadership, there could be threats to independence and therefore threats to the sustainability and standing of the business.
Having integrity and objectivity  of course goes beyond recognising and preventing illegal activity such as corruption and bribery, which for any CIMA professional should go without saying. It entails taking a look at the interests of the organisation as a whole. This involves weighing up business decisions for the long term and supporting the team in both understanding risks and achieving their aims, without compromising standards. Part of this is having a true understanding of how the business operates and ensuring that what "works on the sheet, works on the street" as one participant put it.
Just as in Europe there are talent shortages for the right candidates to undertake effective business partner roles. Technical finance skills remain paramount, however communication, influencing, negotiation and leadership are some of the skills sets that are essential for effective partnering. Students and members at all stages of their career would be well advised to focus on developing these skills and competencies as the expectations and demands from business on the finance function intensifies - around the world. These needs are not only for finance professionals to be stewards, catalysts and strategist - but to be independent - highlighting the importance of being ethical.
As one CEO from the region is quoted as saying "I want my CFO to be a sounding board... with the professional courage to challenge me and speak up". Sounds like a need for finance heros and heroines to me. Having just checked the definition, heroism describes people who "in the face of danger and adversity or from a position of weakness, display courage". So how do you measure up?
Meanwhile, I wonder what mascot the UK government would adopt as their "Agent Lang" to promote anti-bribery efforts. Ideas welcome and I'd be glad to pass on to the Ministry of Justice...