Increased pressure to grow revenues — amid growing geopolitical instability, commodity and currency price volatility, as well as economic sanctions — is pushing companies and their executives toward high-risk behaviors, according to Ernst & Young’s 2015 Europe, Middle East, India and Africa (EMEIA) Fraud Survey, “Fraud and corruption — the easy option for growth?

Nearly a third of 3,800 employees of large businesses in the 38 countries polled by E&Y said that management is under increased pressure to expand into higher risk markets. In those markets, nearly two-thirds (61%) said corruption within companies was widespread and 37% said that companies often overstate their financial performance.

In all EMEIA markets, 23% of senior management respondents said they have heard of early recognition of revenue occurring in their organization in the past year — the type of behavior that has been at the center of numerous high-profile frauds, according to the survey. Moreover, 21% said that bad news about financial performance is not being shared openly.

“The risks of fraud, bribery, and corruption are real,” David Stulb, global leader of E&Y’s fraud investigation  and dispute services practice said in a press release. “Businesses are facing complex restrictions in the way they conduct business with evolving sanctions regimes and new risks, such as cybercrime, having the potential to significantly disrupt operations. Businesses need to have their eyes wide open in their pursuit of high-risk growth strategies.”

EY’s survey also showed that 20% of employees believe anti-corruption policies will hold them back from growing their business. Moreover, many businesses still do not have “even the basic building blocks” in place for effective compliance: 42% of respondents said their company does not have an anti-bribery/anti-corruption policy, or are unaware of them; 37% have not had anti-bribery/anti-corruption training; and 24% said their company does not have a whistleblower hotline.

There was also a disconnect between the views of senior management and that of more junior staff on how much top leaders are communicating the company’s commitment to high ethical standards. In the survey, 44% of senior management respondents said they frequently communicate the importance of high ethical standards, but only 30% of employee respondents agreed.

“Businesses remain under intense pressure to grow and, in this market, operating in the gray area between legal and illegal may appear to some as a viable option,” Stulb said. “But our survey results show that this is a false choice, and that growth can be achieved while appropriately managing the risks of fraud and corruption. Effective compliance is not a barrier to growth; it is a requirement for sustained success.”

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