This week, we had the opportunity to sit down with Alan Ewins, Special Counsel – Asia at Allen & Overy and Ethical Alliance Advisory Council Member, to hear his thoughts on anti-corruption issues and the future of enforcement.
Tell us more about your background and how you started your career.
I have been in private practice for coming up to 30 years, over 20 of them with Allen & Overy, in Hong Kong and London. My area of practice is financial services regulatory, and I am the Special Counsel for Asia. I was attracted to this area of work early on as an important blend of technical and real world issues. The Asian Financial Crisis in the late nineties, the Global Financial Crisis and now the uncertainties ahead, their impact on everyday life, and how my work as a lawyer has been driven by those events and more, have given me no regrets in taking this path. In particular, how financial institutions behave and operate are cornerstones of orderly markets and the creation of a level playing field for consumers and counterparties to enable those markets to run as smoothly as possible.
What makes you passionate about ethics and compliance issues?
Appropriate ethical behaviour is critical to the stability of domestic and international markets. This is both at a high level (whether jurisdictions have in place appropriate controls and enforcement activity on market structures and participants) or at a more granular level i.e. can listed companies be trusted to operate in a transparent manner to allow investors to assess their stability and performance; is market abuse and insider trading rife or restricted in practice; how strong is the relevant anti-money laundering regime in practice? These types of issues matter a great deal, and it is important not to treat them as “just compliance” or box-ticking exercises. How regimes function helps to mark out their place in the international community (highly relevant at this time) and “reputation risk” cannot be underestimated. In any event, at a fundamental level, corruption and market abuse unfairly benefit a relatively small number at the expense of not only swindled investors but the wider economy – including its wellbeing – as a whole.
What about the Ethical Alliance excites you?
It is an honour to be part of the Ethical Alliance Advisory Council. I have sensed a high degree of enthusiasm, experience and engagement among the other members of the Council. That has created a relevant platform to allow a range of views and experience, from a multiplicity of backgrounds, to be pooled in a forum that can be used to distil those views and plug them into the wider debate. The relative diversity of members enables a broad perspective to be brought to bear on major issues. The Council also has the interesting side-effect of bringing different disciplines to focus on sometimes seemingly unrelated issues on their face, but which ultimately have at their foundations the same message of the damage wrought by unchallenged corruption, abuse or unfairness.
If you had to describe in one word, ‘what’s next’ for anti-corruption, what would it be? Why?
Consistency. There needs to be a consistent intolerance of corrupt behaviour at a policy and operational level – governmental/regulatory, corporate and individual – which is consistently enforced against across the board: there is no room for “gaming” the rules or indeed permitting political expediency to dictate levels of anti-corruption activity. Hence the relevance of and need for bodies such as the Council to spotlight issues as they stand now or as they are perceived to be evolving.
In your view, what is the future of enforcement?
Continuing intensive international cooperation, including data sharing among regulators, tightening of policies and standards, and increasing penalties. I see no reason to believe there will be turning back in that regard, whether in relation to terrorist financing, money laundering, insider dealing, sanctions or the like.
That is only sustainable where strong enforcement goes (and is seen to go) hand-in-hand with the rule of law, and with certainty and consistency of regimes and approaches. That is clearly a work in progress in the current markets, particularly when seen in the light of technological developments that often – usually – outstrip regulators’ ability to regulate, leading to potential gaps in the law, and its application to new product and services.
Which sector(s) do you think are the most vulnerable to bribery and corruption?
All sectors are potentially vulnerable, so constant vigilance is required, whether it be in relation to old school insider trading by tipping off or cyber-security breaches by hackers buying their way into corporate systems, inappropriate behaviour in relation to appointing managers of major infrastructure projects, or otherwise. Corruption and bribery can occur at all levels and be a constant (but potentially significant) irritant within a market or a more systemic and pervasive threat.
If you had one message for our Ethical Alliance members, what would it be?
In my view, one thing to consider is that it is important for Ethical Alliance members to continue to be vigilant in not just your own sphere of activity but in other areas – geographies or markets or otherwise – to see how guiding principles can be teased out of seemingly un-connected stories, which can then be re-worked into the overall system to fuel the fight against bribery, corruption and other unacceptable behaviour.