The Bribery Act = end of corporate jollies?

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for liz blog.jpgEvery man has his price, according to Sir Richard Walpole and maybe I'm cynical but I tend to agree with him. Most people like to believe that, if pushed, they would not take an option which benefited them more than the client they should be serving. In practice though, and when no one is looking, if we are being honest a majority of us would admit we have been guilty of partaking in what could be seen as bribery. We probably didn't call it that at the time, or even overtly recognise it to be what is was, at least not to anyone else anyway.

 

We are generally uncomfortable with the term - bribery - it creates images of crooks and villains huddling around a dingy table, puffing away on cheap cigars as they greedily rub their mitts. But it is not just within the murky criminal underworld that this behaviour goes on. As much as we may like to hide away from it, it is likely that bribery in some form happens pretty regularly within the insurance industry.

 

As we prepare for the Bribery Act 2010 to be implemented in April this year, maybe this uneasy truth has led to a few sleepless nights for brokers. After all, if it goes through in its current format, which experts believe it may do, then for the first time a company could be found guilty for failing to prevent bribery.

 

Firms will be hit with unlimited fines while individuals could face a 10 year stretch in Pentonville. It may seem like a harsh penalty for a week's corporate hospitality skiing in Val d'Isere but it's not something that is going to go away. Worryingly a recent survey found that nearly two thirds of the industry didn't feel ready to cope with the new legislation.

 

One aspect of the Act which is hard to deal with is the subjectivity surrounding what actually could constitute a bribe. Everyone operates within their own limits and what might seem "disproportionate or lavish" to one person may seem fairly standard to another. Unfortunately, it may take a few people to get their fingers burnt before we have any real sense of where the boundaries lie.

 

At a recent briefing on the Act from a law firm in the City, the speaker outlined some guidance which I will share with you. You might not like it though. Firstly you should be wary of any overseas jollies or alcoholic gifts which extend further than one bottle of wine. Take comfort though- apparently mouse mats and branded umbrellas will not fall within the Act's remit. I can almost hear the collective sigh amongst you.

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