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MISSION:INTANGIBLE, the blog of the Intangible Asset Finance Society, offers critical comments on intangible asset, corporate reputation, and finance; supplemented by quantitative reputation metrics. Intangible assets include business processes, patents, trademarks; reputations for ethics and integrity; quality, safety, sustainability, security, and resilience; and comprise 70% of the average company's value. MISSION:INTANGIBLE is a registered trademark of the Intangible Asset Finance Society.

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Ethical investigations

Nir Kossovsky - Tuesday, August 11, 2009
As a follow on to last week's note on the fall of Huron Consulting due to ethical issues, the Financial Times reported Monday  that a study commissioned by KPMG of UK companies found that four out of 10 respondents had begun investigations in the past three years. This compares with 27 per cent a 2007 survey.

Companies had a further incentive to set up better anti-corruption practices after big fines were imposed on Siemens of Germany and KBR-Halliburton of the US for overseas bribery.

Despite the rise in anti-fraud activity by British business, however, the survey showed that an even greater number – 43 per cent – had no anti-corruption measures in place, suggesting that many companies still did not take the issue seriously.

And while 67 per cent of respondents said there were places where it was impossible to do business without bribery, only 35 per cent had ever declined to work in a country because of fears of corruption.

Even among companies that had adopted anti-bribery measures, the survey found that only 42 per cent conducted regular audits of overseas agents – the middlemen who have been found at the centre of corruption allegations.

There was also a lack of awareness about the far-reaching “extra-territorial” powers of US authorities through the Foreign and Corrupt Practices Act, which had been used to pursue British companies and executives.

Six out of 10 companies said they worked in the US, but only three in 10 realised they were subject to the law.

In the UK, a new bribery bill which could become law next year creates an offence of “negligent failure of a commercial organisation to prevent bribery”. Executives could be held responsible for wrongdoing in their company or by third-party agents, regardless of whether they knew about it. In the US, that standard is already in place as the result of In re Caremark Int’l Inc. Derivative Litig., 698 A.2d 959 (Del. Ch. 1996), and Stone v. Ritter, 2006 Del. LEXIS 597 (Del. 2006).

Andersen's ashes

Nir Kossovsky - Monday, August 03, 2009

We return from our summer holidays to see the stock price of Huron Consulting plummet in early morning trading.

We excerpt from the Reuter's story.

Huron Consulting Group (NASDAQ:HURN), a member of the Diversified Commercial & Professional Services sector, which rose in 2002 from the ashes of collapsed accounting giant Arthur Anderson, said late on Friday that its entire top management team would leave the company and that it would restate more than three years of results.

Oppenheimer analyst Scott Schneeberger said: "The damage to Huron's reputation will likely be significant."

Two law firms are investigating potential shareholder claims against Huron over possible securities violations, while an analyst raised questions about the company's ability to survive.

Huron, which was on Fortune magazine's 2008 list of the 100 fastest-growing U.S. companies, said it is also conducting a separate investigation into its allocation of chargeable hours in response to an inquiry from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Chicago-based Huron was founded in 2002 by 25 partners from Arthur Andersen, the accounting firm that collapsed in connection with the Enron Corp accounting scandal in 2002.

Were there any warning signs? We look for indications in the Steel City Re IA (Corporate Reputation) Index.  The Index, which correlates with reputation surveys such as those published by Forbes, Fortune, and Harris Interactive, captures the financial implications of stakeholder behaviors and expectations of stakeholder behaviors as determined by corporate reputation. The Index is a good leading indicator of financial performance and returns on equity.

And indeed, there are indications and warnings of a reputation challenge. The Steel City Re Index shows that over a one year period, Huron rose meteorically from a low of 0.35 to a high of 1.0 and then back down to 0.83. That's a significant fluctuation in reputation in advance of any public disclosure.

At the end of trading today, Huron is down 69%.

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