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Companies dig deep for ethics compliance

Multinational firms are spending more to comply with Sarbanes-Oxley and other regulations but don't always know where the money's going.

Businesses are spending more money to ensure compliance with ethics regulations such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, but they don't always know what those dollars are accomplishing, a new study shows.

Over the next two years, more than half of U.S. and European multinational companies expect to boost their spending on compliance by 23 percent, according to a new survey of business executives by management consultant PricewaterhouseCoopers.


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Nearly all respondents said they plan to make improvements to their company's compliance efforts, with the average expenditure rising 9.9 percent.

But 44 percent of senior executives said their companies do not have a clear view of its total compliance spending. Even at companies that do say they have a clear view, executives likely aren't accounting for other costs, such as those for remediation, penalties, fines, lost revenue and lost management time. Thirty-two percent of executives described their compliance programs as "very efficient," while 59 percent rated their programs as "somewhat inefficient."

The Sarbanes-Oxley Act, passed in 2002, is designed to prevent financial malpractice and accounting scandals.

A key provision of the law, Section 404, which took effect Nov. 15, requires publicly traded companies to put in place controls over the flow of financial information. This would mean greater deployment of security and other technologies in areas such as document and record management.

"Companies are spending significant sums of money--even more than they realize--in order to improve compliance effectiveness and efficiency, but executives are finding that they are not receiving the return on investment they expected," Dan DiFilippo, head of governance and compliance issues at PricewaterhouseCoopers, said in a statement.

"The risks are just too great for companies to operate with ineffective compliance programs."

External requirements and regulations account for 74 percent of total compliance costs, according to the survey.

U.S. multinationals spend a higher percentage on external requirements than their European counterparts, while European companies spend a higher percentage on compliance with internal guidelines, including ethics rules, codes of conduct and risk management rules.

In the United States, compliance with Sarbanes-Oxley regulations accounts for 54 percent of total compliance spending. In Europe, that figure is 12 percent.