Tuesday, January 19, 2021

RSM blows whistle on middle-market company shortcoming

Research by audit, tax and consulting firm RSM reveals that a quarter of middle market firms don’t have a formal process in place to handle whistleblowing.

This compares to 33% surveyed over two years ago, highlighting a rate of progress that RSM believes is too slow.

Tim Merritt, fraud services partner at RSM, which has offices in Hull and Leeds, said: “Whilst our research reveals that too many middle market businesses remain exposed to whistleblowing, probably more concerning is the relatively slow rate of progress in terms of improving the governance and supporting processes in this key area.

“A robust and transparent protocol that ensures whistleblowing is managed is critical in ensuring a sustainable, ethical and future proof culture and organisation. Effective mechanisms for escalating employee and stakeholder concerns is a vital part of this. If stakeholders, and crucially employees feel empowered to hold themselves and peers accountable for their behaviour – then Boards and senior leadership are much more able to build an organisation which is built on integrity.”

Further findings from the research, that surveyed 200 middle market business leaders, revealed that nearly a third of organisations don’t have a dedicated helpline for whistle-blowers. This compared to 44% two years ago. Again, whilst this highlights an improvement over time, progress remains slow.

RSM is quick to highlight in its latest report entitled ‘Trust in the Boardroom’ that just having a helpline in place is not enough.

Mr Merritt added: “Organisations and Boards must ensure that there are accompanying policies and awareness programmes to support the mechanism. This not only embeds best practice and awareness across the workforce but helps senior leadership to respond appropriately. Employees must be made to feel safe in their workplace and so responses to official concerns must follow the appropriate, independent steps. This will help employees feel like they will not be persecuted or blamed for speaking up.”

RSM’s report sets out how organisations who have taken initial steps, or haven’t considered whistleblowing thoroughly should

  • appoint a transparency champion
  • establish a regular training programme for all Board members and staff
  • draft and publicise a whistleblowing policy and reporting mechanisms
  • ensure there’s an independent investigation process should it be needed, and
  • roll out a whistleblowing helpline that is well publicised and accessed.

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