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如何确保花旗银行洗心革面

Eleanor Bloxham 2011年11月07日

美国联邦法官已要求SEC解释,与花旗银行之间的和解方案如何才能确保该行不会故态复萌,再次犯下误导客户的大错。本文的建议对SEC很有价值。

管理层问责制

    另一个值得检视的关键领域是:董事会是否真正将责任落实到首席执行官和其他高管身上?如果答案是肯定的,具体是如何操作的?如何进行监管?如何通过升迁、薪酬调整和解雇等手段来执行?

    据花旗集团提交的文件描述道,在决定高管薪酬时,该行使用了一些风险因素作为“阈值或‘关卡’因素”。

    在薪酬方案中,阈值是指员工必须满足一定的基本要求,之后才有资格获得奖金。(Countrywide Mortgage公司也曾采纳类似薪酬方案,但未能防止高风险行为盛行。)

    花旗提交的文件中,并未澄清与客户的沟通情况是否被用作该行业绩评估的标准及决定奖金多少的因素。负责组织内部文化的企业高管理应清楚,自己的奖金直接与这方面的业绩挂钩。

    “统一团队、负责任的金融、独创性和领导力”,在花旗向SEC提交的文件中将上述四点列为公司战略的基石,或许,道德与诚实品行应该列为第五点。

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    英国石油(BP)和安然(Enron)公司的行为准则堪称完美,花旗银行同样如此,其内部准则概述了员工对客户担负的责任,为什么这一切还不够呢?

    评估花旗的公司治理情况时应当分析:其董事会是否已确保高管们理解这些准则?是否明白这些规定不是一纸空文,必须严格执行?是否明白公司完全不容忍对客户进行不可靠或误导性的信息披露?

    此外,即使工作文化健全可靠,个别员工走上邪路的可能性也总是无法避免。花旗银行应当检查,内部是否有充分的制衡机制——以便核查与客户沟通的方式,清除存在问题的行为。

为举报者留下空间

    董事会还应当评估监控、处理举报者投诉的方式。根据董事会的行为,员工们是否认为自己有责任报告向客户进行不公平信息披露的情况?在他们看来,站出来举报问题的话,是否会得到支持和奖励(而不是遭到惩罚)?

对警示性的迹象保持警惕

    花旗银行进行的改革还应纳入帮助董事会和高管获得早期警示的流程,使他们能尽早采取补救行动。例如,董事会如何监管员工的文化,了解他们的顾虑?董事会是否会分析匿名调查的结果?

    SEC则应当弄清,应当建立起怎样的一套监管机制,来对花旗银行的内部流程进行评估,确保公司的改革落到实处。

    拉科夫法官的问题很简单,答案却必须站得住脚。检验这一切的时间是11月9日:届时SEC能做好准备吗?

    本文作者爱丽诺•布洛斯罕为董事会咨询公司价值联盟与公司治理联盟(The Value Alliance and Corporate Governance Alliance)首席执行官。

Hold executives accountable

    Another critical area to examine is whether the board truly holds the CEO and senior executives accountable and, if so, how it does this, including its oversight and use of promotions, compensation and dismissals.

    Citigroup's proxy describes the use of certain risk factors as a "threshold or 'gating' factor" in determining compensation.

    Thresholds are used in compensation programs as hurdles that must be met before an employee is eligible for a bonus. (Countrywide Mortgage had a similar compensation approach, which failed to prevent risky behavior there.)

    Citi's proxy filing does not clarify whether communication with clients is used in performance evaluations and bonus determinations at the bank. Top executives who are responsible for the organization's culture should know that their bonuses are at stake.

    "Common purpose, responsible finance, ingenuity and leadership" are four key principles that Citi cites in its proxy as the basis of its strategy. Perhaps ethics or integrity should be their fifth.

Steer clear of lip service

    BP and Enron had excellent codes of conduct. The same goes for Citi. Its code outlines employees' responsibilities to clients. So why has this been insufficient?

    A review of Citi's governance should include whether the board has made sure that top management understands that these words are not lip service and that there is zero tolerance for unreliable or misleading disclosures to clients.

    Further, even if there is a sound work culture, there's always the possibility that an employee will go rogue. Citi should examine whether there are enough internal checks and balances in the way it communicates with clients to stamp out questionable behavior.

Leave room for the whistleblower

    The board should also review the way it monitors and handles whistleblower complaints. Based on the board's actions, do employees believe it is their obligation to report instances of unfair disclosure to clients and do they feel they will be supported and rewarded (rather than punished) for coming forward?

Keep an eye out for warning signs

    The reforms at the bank should include processes for the board and top management to receive early warnings and take remedial actions sooner. For example, how does the board monitor the culture and concerns of its staff -- does the board review anonymous surveys?

    The SEC should address what kind of regulatory oversight it will establish to review Citi's processes until the fixes at the company have been made.

    While the question Judge Rakoff poses is simple, the answers must be robust. Exam time comes on November 9: will the SEC be prepared?

    Eleanor Bloxham is CEO of The Value Alliance and Corporate Governance Alliance, a board advisory firm.

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