Whistleblower website could lift the lid on business fraud

24 Mar 2011

A forensic accountant and his team have created a new website that allows whistleblowers in any organisation to highlight wrongdoing, create a trail of evidence that can be investigated and at the same time maintain the whistleblowers’ anonymity.

Ethicspro is the brainchild of Graham Burke, a principle at auditing firm Burke & Associates, which has offices in Galway and Longford.

After all the recent financial scandals and wrongdoing at major financial institutions, Burke explained to Siliconrepublic.com that the ability for people to highlight wrongdoing will ultimately lead to more transparent and ethical organisations.

The whistleblower’s identity will be kept a secret and Burke will bring the allegations to the attention of companies concerned.

Some 40pc of frauds are detected by tip-off and Burke believes firms being able to rely on the ethics of individuals to report internally will save businesses thousands, if not millions, in the process.

How Ethicspro helps protect whistleblowers

On sign-up, a company is given unique login which is then communicated to employees, often through an organisation’s specific “ethical reporting at work policy” or through HR documents and contracts.

On logging an incident, the “reporter” can track progress of the report by a unique case number assigned and known to them only. As the service prioritises confidentiality and discretion, neither names or email addresses are required by the reporter.

The reported incident is then sent securely by EthicsPro to the company’s management who then decide how to proceed or follow up.

“We’re forensic accountants and often while interviewing people whenever there was a fraud there are always people who had an inkling of what was going on who didn’t know who to tell. Certain things bother some people and not others,” Burke explained.

“We recently asked 413 executives would they blow the whistle if there was a fraud and 25pc wouldn’t unless they could maintain their anonymity. Of the respondents, it tended to be more men who wouldn’t blow the whistle because they would prefer to keep their noses clean.

“But in this day and age, as well from what’s been in the press, employees have a perception of what could happen if they blew the whistle and many would fear for their jobs. The other dangers businesses face is allegations can be defamatory.”

Burke said few companies in Ireland have internal controls for handling fraud allegations and most people who could warn a board of directors, for example, maintain their silence. “A lot of companies have ‘speak up at work’ policies but most employees don’t trust them.

“Traditionally, when someone blows the whistle on something, the employer is obliged to keep the whistleblowers’ name confidential, but still people don’t trust that. The beauty of our system is that we don’t even know who you are in the first place. All we get is the case number.

“If someone logs an incident we would then tell the company. Stakeholders like to be aware. A report would go to the board of directors. Often there’s no smoke without fire and its up to the companies to investigate themselves.”

Burke said he is targeting Ethicspro at SMEs, large corporate and semi-State bodies.

“A company could have a strong cashflow and lots of money in the bank, but if they are seen to be corrupt they lose their reputation and therefore have nothing.

“Our online effort is aimed at promoting reputation and sound governance in an organisation that prides itself on reputation,” Burke said.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years