For most employees, the hardest part of disclosing conflicts is knowing that you have one in the first place.
The next hardest part is deciding to disclose.
What if it all goes wrong? Not disclosing is easier. For us in compliance, non-disclosure is a serious issue. But getting people to understand what a conflict is and how they need to disclose it – that’s the hardest part for us.
No one solution will work for every company. But tools can help you to apply a risk-based approach to conflicts management so your program moves smoothly.
This is the second blog in our series about managing the conflicts of interest disclosure process. Here we will look at the tools available to aid in your process.
The first blog post, which focuses on scoping the program for success, can be found HERE.
There are many ways to create a disclosure process, as well as tools to help you.
The easiest way to run a disclosure program is to draft and implement a published policy that explains what conflicts are and requires employees to proactively disclose them.
Disclosure can be to their manager, HR department, Legal and/or Compliance. This type of program simply tells employees to disclose but doesn’t have an official form or any other paperwork.
The benefit of this kind of program is that it’s easy to run and is unlikely to take much time or resources.
The downside of this program is that most employees won’t read the policy or be familiar with it, and there won’t be accountability for certification that all conflicts have been disclosed.
One popular way to obtain disclosure and certification that the disclosures have been made is to include the process in the annual Code of Conduct training.
Many eLearning companies and learning management systems can provide disclosure certifications at the end of the training along with a box where people can write out their potential conflicts of interest.
The benefit of this kind of program is that it is uniform and runs systematically without the need for the purchase of additional technology.
The downside is that the post-disclosure mitigation process will need to be managed outside of the disclosure technology, which can create multiple work-streams and may result in manual processing and record-keeping.
Dedicated Conflict of Interest Software
There are many technology companies offering conflicts of interest disclosure software. These systems can be configured to capture information from all employees or any subset chosen to disclose.
The benefit of using dedicated software is that it can be set up for a smooth flow of information and can be used as a single source of truth for conflict management, mitigation, and resolution.
The downside is that this technology is often expensive and comes with multi-year contracts. If you don’t like the software or employees have trouble signing in and making the system work, you’re out of luck until the contract runs out.
Do-it-Yourself Disclosure Forms
Many companies use do-it-yourself disclosure forms. These can work for ad hoc disclosures but also for systematized disclosure. DIY forms can be created in technology available to most companies, including Excel, Word, fillable PDF, or via the Teams Forms app.
The benefit of the DIY form is that it is easy to make and circulate. You can place it on your intranet and send it in an email every year.
The downside is that any mitigation will need to be tracked outside of the system.
Additionally, you are relying on employees to read and understand their obligations, which is not as robust as requiring them to certify that they don’t have any conflicts.
Another way to obtain disclosures is to use online survey services such as Survey Monkey or Survey Anyplace.
It’s simple to create a questionnaire with these tools. You can make a page with a description of what a conflict is and then have a yes/no answer for whether the employee has a potential conflict to disclose. If they say yes, branching logic in the software will open a box on the screen where the conflict can be disclosed.
Survey tools can be customized so that the landing page has the look, feel, and logo of your company. They also have reporting capabilities so that you can isolate the “yes” answers and find the disclosures easily, as opposed to sorting through PDF forms. Lastly, the survey tools create a link that can be emailed, which makes the disclosure process easy to administer.
The benefit of this approach is that it is relatively straightforward to create the workflow. The reporting capabilities make this an easy choice.
However, your IT department may be uncomfortable with such sensitive information being stored outside of the company’s standard software, and once again, these tools do not have space for tracking mitigation.
How do you choose?
Budget is always an issue when considering conflicts disclosure.
If you can afford the large software providers’ programs, that would be ideal, but many companies cannot.
If you have to go with a more manual process, be sure to find a place that houses all of the conflict-related information, like a SharePoint site or Team on Microsoft Teams.
Keeping records is critical to this process, as is, as much as possible, creating a single source of truth for conflicts disclosure and mitigation.
Getting the process of conflicts management right is tricky. By using the right tool for the job, you can streamline the process and make it better.