Interview with Jared Connors, Senior Subject Matter Expert, Corporate Social Responsibility at Assent Compliance.

This is a transcription of our interview with Jared Connors.

You can listen to the original interview via the following link

Boris: Hello ladies and gentlemen and welcome to our interview with Jared Connors. Jared is a senior subject matter expert Corporate Social Responsibility at Assent Compliance which is worlds’ leader in supply chain data management. Deloitte recently named Assent as one of North America’s fastest growing companies. Jared, thank you for taking your time and coming to our interview today.

 

Jared: Thank you Boris, happy to be here.

 

Boris: Jared, can you tell us a short story about Assent Compliance, how you differ from other providers and what is your main focus right now?

 

Jared: Yes I’ll tell you a little bit of a personal story about Assent. In my first encounter, many years ago before I started working here I met the founders of Assent at an event and the way that they demonstrated their product really set them apart and I could see right then as a brand new company, and this was so many years ago I can’t even remember, I could see right then the way they demoed their product they were really going to make a splash in the industry.

 

And that’s because of the way that they combine the automation with the services aspect and focused on providing their regulatory support. And what that really means is this isn’t not just a software, it’s not like you’re plugging in a cd and you’re supposed to go off and be prosperous on your own.

 

Assent really prides itself on providing that full service support in order for companies to make sure that they are ahead of the curve. I’ll give you a few examples on that.

 

One is the regulatory support with the software package, so if you are onboarding with Assent the one beauty of that is that you can always be rest assured that you’re future proofing your solution because they’ve got dedicated individuals that are focused on those particular regulations to make sure that they are understanding what the next thing is going to be from either the market or from the regulators themself. Because often times in product regulatory compliance or corporate social responsibility you see that the market often times goes beyond just what the regulation is, so people will self impose if you will for regulations.

 

And that’s really important because if you are not keeping up with the market you won’t understand what’s happening. And the other thing too is the support that they get through the supply chain provides through the supply chain and that really sets Assent apart completely because if you’re not providing education through your supply chain, if you don’t have an educated supply chain, you don’t have good data for your supply chain.

 

It’s so key and Assent has what we call the supplier experience team, this is a group of people all over the globe that supports the suppliers in the data management so that they are providing quality declarations that are actually useful to the company.

 

So we pride ourselves on good quality data from the supply chain and that means that the customers are then rolling up good quality data to either support their customer requirements or those regulations in terms of better declarations.

 

So really the differentiator of Assent is the people not just in software so its a pretty amazing company to be a part of as well and watch grow.

 

Boris: Ok, thank you for you introduction of the company. We are currently in the midst of a major crisis, the most disruptive period to our society in the piece-time history. And the impact on the public and our healthcare system has been devastating and our economy is facing the prospect of recession much deeper than the crisis of 10 years ago. And Assent compliance recently complied the 2020 state of compliance survey and also created the COVID-19 supply chain impact map to track the pandemics’ impact on the supply chain. Could you please share with us some major finding if they have already been officially released?

 

Jared: Yes, you bet. So right now it’s a very interesting time, things are changing all over the world and everybody know this. At some point here soon we all hope that the earth will start spinning again and life will come back to somewhat normal. But even though this may be a far more reaching financially impact than the 2008 crisis, I see a lot of similarities in the way that companies are initially behaving in terms of how they are addressing supply chain risk. And what I mean by that is being a corporate responsibility practitioner for so many years, I’ve seen where true colors really come out in a crisis for those organizations that have corporate responsibility initiatives and that is that some companies will say “this is nice to have right now and we need to focus on the bottom line and we need to let things like that go”.

 

And it’s really unfortunate because all the great work that they did through the guidance that they enacted whether it would be global reporting initiative for sustainability or whether it would be ISO standard like ISO 37001 for bribery corruption, don’t let those things go because what happens is that just as like what we’ll seen after the 2008 crisis.

 

We’ll see companies that come out of this much worse off and what I mean by that is that they’ll start a rebound like everyone else as the world starts to re-spin again and then a major reputation or regulatory hit will impact them and knock them out much further because they let their due diligence practice go.

 

So we’re really in the practice of making sure that companies are supported all around during this particular crisis. And that means that we need to support their market access regulations like product compliance, to make sure that they get products in the market but it also means that we need to help them with the disruption right now.

 

And understanding that you’re here now for what’s happening in the supply chain and you mention that the COVID-19 map and that has been a really big help for companies just to make sure that they are understanding what is happening within their supply chain.

 

So it can be as simple as understanding new daily cases of COVID as compared to where your supply chain exists to monitor that detail and kind of bump those two things up against each other and say there is a considerable outbreak in this location and I have a series of suppliers as you know often times is we “globalize” our supply chains, we often group our supply chains meaning there are large groups of suppliers right next to each other.

 

Maybe for a particular material type or for a particular process, one material goes from one supplier to the next in a very small geographic area and then shifts around the globe and sends to another area of the globe for either an assembly or further modifications.

 

And so when those areas are hit it really impacts our suppliers, but not just that is important to monitor our daily cases, it’s also important to monitor adverse media to understand if your suppliers have been named in a particular case, a disruption case.

 

Or what’s happening geographically with the government in the area where your suppliers are? Is there a lot of news coming out in a particular region where your suppliers are?

 

So let's use where I am here today, let's say in the Phoenix area of Arizona. And if I had a bunch of manufacturing located here, I’m monitoring through media not only my suppliers names but I’m also monitoring the greater Phoenix area and media that is monitoring regulations or requirements for stay-at-home orders from the governor of Arizona or impacts to the local logistics here in Arizona.

 

Let's say Arizona was a major shipping hub, how am I monitoring? What’s happening? The impact of that particular shipping hub, so often times it means that for companies shipping around the globe we have to monitor ports and in the media that comes out against the port.

 

So it’s not just about understanding what’s happening in terms of COVID cases, it also means that you’re monitoring organizations in their particular verticals, geography locations, government announcements in that area. It is very important that with this information you can paint a very good picture about what may be happening within your suppliers organization.

 

So if you’re talking to your factory manager at a supplier and you’re asking about a particular shipment and they’re saying “all is well, we’re going to get this shipment out” and you’re monitoring information maybe to the contrary, maybe their nearest port city is going to be impacted.

 

Bringing that awareness to them may open that conversation for them to either be more candid or also make them more aware of other impacts. So monitoring adverse media and knowing how to find that information out there and make it useful for you is a huge benefit right now for companies to make sure they’re happening. Because there are so many different inputs to the supply chain, you need to not just monitor the factories themselves, but the impacts on those factories.

 

Boris: Fantastic, what are the major trends you see in the corporate responsibility space? Is it related to climate change or more like a conflict minerals? And how should corporations approach those programs?

 

Jared: You know what, the corporate social responsibility world is very interesting right now, more than ever. As I mentioned before, you can really see true colors of those companies that step back on their corporate responsibility programs because they are more focused on the bottom line.

 

And we can really see for those companies that do that, it really means that they may have put something together that has not been as robust as say their peers because they are trying to tell a story with that not necessarily make a change in their supply chain. That’s number one that you see companies are starting to walk back on it.

 

And the other thing too is it was trending before COVID-19, and that is to make virtual assessments of suppliers’ eternal controls. And what I mean by that is often times corporate social responsibility, in my past is no exception to this, you rely on physical audits of your suppliers. And if you think about that, if you have thousands of suppliers or even hundreds, that’s very difficult to do, it’s very costly.

 

I personally lived on an airplane for many years going around the globe doing audits and I could only go to facilities so often I can only be present and I can only capture so much by spending two to three days in facilities as well. Often times that means that some of those materials I needed, details of management procedures, policies, I didn’t have time to get into when I was on sight there.

 

So before COVID-19 started you saw a major change in that last couple of years of companies saying “I need better, automated controls to have direct engagements with my suppliers that to really get into their eternal controls” and so some people would call that “hey that’s a questionnaire” but the truth is that a questionnaire may be included in that but its really a workflow to look at the risks inherent with your suppliers.

 

And the important value of a corporate responsibility program is not to point out bad behaviors, its to plant seeds with your suppliers to make change. So if you look at the value of an automated work flow, not only is it more cost effective but actually I would argue that if done right and following particular standards and asking the questions to dig in those eternal controls rather than superficially ask “do you have a policy on, yes or no?” but dig into the aspects of that policy and the behavior with a facility, a questionnaire and a correct of actions of management through document review virtually can be far more effective than irregular audit schedule.

 

So once now COVID-19 is coming into the play, you see a lot more companies going “ I really need to emphasize my broader engagement workflow rather than the reliance on the physical audit” because we all see the writing on the wall maybe a while before we are back to the level of global travel that we used to have so we need to continuously monitor these behaviors and our suppliers to make sure that they’re not doing something that might hit us behind the left side on the ear, really impact us from either a regulatory or reputational standpoints.

 

Especially during this crisis because if we look back to 2008, as a CSR practitioner I was never busier in my life and that’s because I work for an organization that really understood that during this crisis practices can lapse, companies can kind of roll back in terms of their behaviors.

 

So if you’re not monitoring them, if you’re not working with them, especially during this crisis you can see a major reputational hit as a result of this crisis.

 

As I mentioned before, coming out of the crisis your company can see light at the end of the tunnel and then you’re blindsided by a huge reputational hit because maybe there was some environmental concern that was occurring, maybe a supplier wasn’t up on their practices or there was a labor rights issues because they were hiring whomever they could and they weren’t paying attention to the appropriate labor rights.

 

Whether it be the age of workers or the way that they withheld documentation or did not withhold documentation I should say. So these things are really important to make sure that we’re really paying attention to those behaviors, now more than ever I would argue. Especially given my past, seeing so many issues blunders I’ll say come out of times as this.

 

Boris: Thank you for describing the situation, what should we expect from you guys in the future? With all this automation, all this decoupling and a lot of stuff going on as the consequences of this crisis.

 

Jared: So there’s a lot of big plans for the future here to Assent and I say generally this: we need to be focused on more data management aspects of the supplier risk engagement program.

 

So that means that we’re looking at how many more different data entry points or aspects of risk we can support our clients on. So that they can have a better understanding of their suppliers behavior overall, so it’s so important to be able have that confidence to be able to work with an organization.

 

So while data is key, that’s crude oil, the refined jet fuel is the analyses that you provide from that. So we’re trying to pump out that refined jet fuel to say “this is what your risk is overall because we’ve compared that to these myriad of data points within your suppliers to understand how they can potentially impact you.

 

Whether that’s looking at product compliance declarations to say overall we have the information against these product compliance regulations and therefore your market access risk is low.

 

Whether it be vendor management point where we’re looking at the internal controls of an organization to understand if they got measures in place for helping you support trade compliance initiative, bribery corruption risk.

 

Whether it’s in the CSR space, whether supporting your organization by good labor practices, environmental concerns, even conflict minerals. Conflict minerals is one of those things that even during this crisis, the efforts, the voice of these organizations out there to support responsibly source minerals continues and I would argue that it even grows during this crisis.

 

It has been a very interesting aspect of the broader corporate responsibility suite to watch during this time as we head towards the European Union or what I like to call the Global responsible minerals Deadline here at the end of this year.

 

So all of those things, they need to be joined and married together as a broader risk review at looking at your third parties.

 

Boris: Alright, could you perhaps give us some tips for our community of risk managers? How, from your point of view, can we contribute to the process of better understanding of this complex world or risk?

 

Jared: Well I think that for your broader risk practitioner when you’re looking at, say, supply chain think about how segmented your process may be today and how can you join those things together.

 

So often when I talk to companies, you’ve got your procurement representative looking at broader supplier onboarding, vendor management risk aspects, did they provide all the materials you need to comfortably onboard the supplier to make sure that they’re the right type of supplier.

 

You’ve got segregated CSR representative who’s looking at the corporate responsibility aspect of that organization. And you may have your legal rep coming in and supporting any bribery corruption review that’s going on and all these things may be a little disjointed.

 

I often talk to companies to say “why don’t you step back and think about this in a workflow, in a cycle, of all these things and how together may they make your risk portfolio or risk assessment of those third parties more powerful.”

 

Those numbers individually may represent little points of risk and they may not be jointed together but once you get them together they can paint a pretty powerful picture to say the right supplier for me or more importantly how can I help this supplier become a better corporate citizen as well and make sure that we’re not putting ourselves or them at risk for any market access issues or corporate responsibility initiatives.

 

Or broadly those vendor management risks with them on boarding somebody or looking at their legal practices such as bribery and corruption.

 

Especially bribery and corruption are such huge monetary fines or impacts to companies if you are not paying attention to that. More and more we see while bribery and corruption initiatives may have been often times focused on the down-stream channel partners in the intermediaries we see so much risk born from the supply chain in terms of bribery and corruption risk and how that might trickle down and impact customers.

 

Even though that behavior may have been within four walls of that supplier. What are the impacts of that potential for risk to impact you as a down-stream company, water rolls down hill so we need to make sure that we’re looking up stream to those behaviors to say: “how could what you’re doing impact me tomorrow?” It’s so very important to join all of those aspects of risk together into one review to say “show me that big picture of what my suppliers represent to me.

 

Boris: I think it was a great and short interview. I would like to thank you and I wish you great success with all your efforts for this very important task of corporate social responsibility and I also wish a great success for Assent compliance to grow your company more stronger in speed because actually corporations require such companies to do these things. And I wish you a good day, thank you.

 

Jared: Thank you, stay safe.

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