Compliance and why lawyers care about it?

At KPMG, we lawyers work with customer and IT and advisory specialists to actually deliver compliance solutions with legal and business effect, and thus help our customers to prosper.

Is there a Finnish word for compliance, and what do lawyers have to do with it?

This question was posted by a renowned journalist in the context of an interview in Helsingin Sanomat. I offered a compact definition in Finnish, but could not find an appropriate Finnish word. Why not?

This may have something to do with the different ways in which the US and Finnish societies have developed.

Finland has enjoyed more than 100 years of independence. Decisions on the national governance model were taken after a tragic civil war in the early 20th century and resulted in a system of representative democracy.  However, the nation had to genuinely unite and fight for it during World War II, despite the presence of quite polarized political ambitions.

This resulted eventually in a relatively tightly knit society in which laws are accepted and complied with to the extent that they are perceived to be effective in protecting citizens; we do not (generally) feel compelled to have the freedom to carry firearms to protect ourselves. And yes, we still have universal conscription to prepare and remind ourselves of our common duty to defend our society.

The USA sees it differently

On the other hand, the USA, the financial world leader, has over 200 years of sovereignty based on the freedom of individuals (and corporations) to pursue happiness with as little interference from government as possible. This works fine, but has had its downsides, reflected in corporate scandals ranging from Junk Bonds to Subprime Mortgages, not to mention Madoff Ponzi Schemes.

The concept of compliance originating from the USA and other Common Law societies tends to be based on the assumption that individuals act primarily in self-interest and that, accordingly, compliance is a way of documenting the due discharge of secondary duties. 

In Finland, we’ve grown used to the theory of innocent until proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt – even in questions of compliance and governance.

Compliance as a way of Finnish life

The Finnish language does not have an appropriate word for compliance; it is essentially embodied in our law and way of life, and hence the need to actually document compliance, as currently required in both national and foreign legislation, can be regarded as an affront to our integrity.

We might need to adjust our approach slightly – compliance and trust are not as given in the rest of the world as here in the Nordics, where we have learned to trust, just in order to survive – never mind the goal of pursuing happiness and freedom. We can take pride in our integrity, but we must document it so the rest of the world can actually believe we’ve always had it – even before compliance as a concept was invented.

What do lawyers have to do with compliance?

Lawyers interpret compliance regulations, but do not roll-out and implement the related activities – a task that is rarely within even the best lawyers’ competence.

At KPMG, we lawyers work with customer and IT and advisory specialists to actually deliver compliance solutions with legal and business effect, and thus help our customers to prosper while remaining efficiently within the regulations. It’s called ethical business, and we just love it, even if it means documenting a business that is already being run compliantly.

Don’t worry! We take no offence if customers initially assume otherwise.

Read here more about Legal Compliance services at KPMG Finland!