"Risk and strategy are fundamental questions for any business. It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in."
LRN’s Ben DiPietro sits down with Ellen Hunt, the senior vice president and head of audit, ethics and compliance at AARP, the largest nonprofit, nonpartisan organization in the United States dedicated to empowering and advocating for Americans 50 and older. Ellen tells LRN how she developed a transparent ethics and compliance (E&C) dashboard that is shared with the Audit Committee and the entire organization, her thoughts on retaliation, the benefits of having E&C officers serve on boards, and more. Listen to this episode to learn where Ellen sees shortcomings in the profession, how she sees risks converging and how the function could evolve over the next 25 years.
ABOUT ELLEN HUNT
Ellen started her career at Blue Cross Blue Shield, followed by a stint at US Food Service, before she joined AARP in January 2011. Since then, Ellen has held various positions of ethics and compliance leadership at AARP. A graduate of John Marshall law school, Ellen is widely regarded as one of the brightest minds in E&C. Ellen and her program at AARP were recognized in March 2019 with a Women in Compliance award and AARP recently was named in 2019 by Ethisphere as one of the World's Most Ethical organizations. She was named as a “Top Mind” by Compliance Week in June 2016.
E&C TRANSPARENCY AND BOARD OVERSIGHT
Ellen shares insights from her experience at AARP into different issues that many nonprofits and for-profit organizations face. For instance, as a back-office department, budgeting for E&C can be challenge; Ellen advocates for keeping a contingency fund available in the event of ad-hoc costs such as investigations that may arise. As a nonprofit organization, AARP is always looking for ways to cut costs on matters that don’t add value to its constituents.
Ellen works hard to foster a strong relationship with the board, audit committee and the rest of her organization. She encourages others to search for synergies with other departments by looking at common priorities and shared goals to determine how to better work together.
When it comes to improving engagement with boards so that they understand the underlying E&C issues, Ellen believes it’s all about managing reputational risk. Companies can have great E&C dashboards but they need to consider what matters are actually communication to the board. Boards and executive teams need to make sure they have oversight over organization justice, and that’s where transparency comes in.
At AARP, Ellen developed a dashboard that is presented to the audit committee and is also publicly available to the entire organization. This dashboard presents different metrics such as the number of concerns raised, duration of each case, disciplinary actions taken, and more. Ellen said transparent processes such as this are incredibly important, especially when employees are asked to be brave and report cases, when risk of retaliation still exists.
WHAT YOU'LL LEARN IN THIS EPISODE
- The mission of AARP and why they rebranded from the American Association of Retired Persons to the American Association of Real Possibilities (1:33)
- How Ellen manages AARP’s E&C budget and how she uses her contingency fund (2:25)
- The role of AARP’s board of directors and audit committee (4:39)
- How Ellen collaborates with other organizational departments to ensure E&C priorities are recognized (6:32)
- The challenges with reporting on E&C metrics (8:34)
- Why E&C officers should be on corporate boards and the risk of retaliation (9:58)
- What Ellen anticipates for the field in 5 years (13:05)
- What Ellen anticipates for the profession in 25 years and how risk represents an opportunity (14:54)
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