Just a couple of years ago Convercent was a company that built technologies for compliance and ethics officers, but didn’t have a compliance officer of its own. Now Katie Smith has changed all that, and brought her own innovations to the job, including an interactive compliance website and an ethics “chatbot” named Cooper.
In a recent interview, Smith said she had been a customer of Convercent during her four years as a compliance officer at USAA, a financial services group known for serving members of the U.S. military. Smith wanted a certain application that she envisioned. Convercent loved her ideas, and ended up hiring her in 2016 as its first compliance officer.
Smith lobbied for, and eventually won, the addition of “ethics” to her title—chief ethics and compliance officer.
“It was important to me personally to have ethics in the title,” she said, but the company didn’t agree at first. After she pointed out all the corporate ethics failures in the headlines, she said, her boss relented. “It’s about building the culture and setting the tone in the organization— walking our own talk,” she explained.
Her most recent project at Convercent involved creating the company’s code of ethics.
“I have written several codes of conduct, some 90 pages or more, and nobody read it,” Smith said. “My vision for this code was to take it to the 21st century.”
The new ethics code is part of Convercent’s interactive website that anyone can see. It is breezy and conversational in tone, with photos of employees to illustrate some points. And if an employee, client or other interested party wants to know more, they can click on a category and delve deeper into an issue.
“I wanted to make it engaging and bite-size,” Smith said, but also complete, with the option of “drilling down to get the level of information they are looking for.”
The website also offers an electronic chatbot. Smith named it Cooper simply because, she said, the name seemed like fun. Any anonymous user can type in an issue, such as a conflict of interest, and Cooper will ask a series of about five questions. Then, if need be, the chatbot will direct the user to the proper contact in order to report or resolve the issue.
Smith said the interactive website layers on Convercent’s analytics. Besides measuring the website’s usage and analyzing what’s on people’s minds, the technology also can raise a red flag if a certain issue keeps popping up, such as sexual harassment.
“I can actually see how many people have gone into the code on any given day and identify potential issues,” she said.
Smith embraced the concept of an interactive website, she said, because “I am the entire office. I needed to find a way to make myself available to my global teammates so they have information and resources they need at their fingertips, any time night or day.”
She describes Convercent as an ethics cloud company. “Our vision is to drive ethics to the center of business,” she explained. “We want to empower ethics and compliance officers to really identify and measure the ethical health of their companies, to manage the data across programs.”
The company offers an analytics platform that can tap into email content, human resources data and other metadata to derive compliance insights and spot trends. But it is a “big picture” platform, and not an individual targeting device.
Smith, who reports to the company’s CEO, said she works most closely with Convercent’s in-house counsel and HR, internal audit, risk, and data privacy functions. “Data privacy is explicitly important to us,” she said, and has been the focus of her latest efforts.
Smith is also on the core team that is working to make Convercent compliant with the European Union’s new General Data Privacy Regulation. “We are looking at what is the best way to comply with the regulation and still meet our customer needs,” she said.