Auditing Career: Traveling to Dangerous Places
So, you’re now sitting pretty working for a big Fortune 500 company with the enviable task of auditing subsidiary divisions in three continents, and you’re only 27 years old. If your friends back in Mumbai could only see you now!
This is not an unusual situation in many internal audit departments in large organizations where fresh young auditors are recruited with the understanding that they are to travel 50 to 75% of the time to places few of them knew existed on the map. The natural inquisitiveness of youth, the romantic appeal of traveling the world, the pay, the superman complex, the arrogance and the lack of common sense we all have at that age makes us perfect to accept challenges others with more experience would probably turn down. And, this sometimes occurs when young auditors and consultants accept without much thought, assignments in dangerous places.
In America, knowledge about geography, international politics, cultural, ethnic, religious and criminal activities in the rest of the world is weak. There are many well educated Americans who believe that the power of the US Constitution somehow extends beyond our borders, or in some unknown fashion is respected by most foreign countries. There is also a belief that the US version of “the rule of law” is accepted everywhere else in the world. And, that in a worse case scenario, if one is in trouble overseas, a lawyer just like in the USA will save the day. This is a dangerous misconception.
On December 10, 2008, my cousin Felix Batista, one of the world’s most respected and experienced international security consultants was kidnapped in Mexico while giving a conference on anti-kidnapping strategies. To this day, Felix’s whereabouts are unknown and many presume him dead. The plight of his wife and children and our family to bring closure to this ordeal can be understood by visiting the Felix Batista media blog, setup to track coverage of his disappearance. I shared an interest in Crisis Management with Felix, except I chose the technology route and he the international security one. I will share with you a few items you should keep in mind when considering a foreign assignment to places you are not familiar with, or if you are a new employee still unfamiliar with your organization. I hope you do not consider these too radical or old fashioned, especially if you’re relatively new in the field:
1. Understand that your company’s image overseas is likely to be different than what it is in the USA. You need to research this from various sources and understand that you may be putting yourself at high risk by simply identifying yourself as an employee visiting from the USA.
2. Understand that the behaviors, expectations, values and views of a person who earns a yearly income of less than 20 or 25% of what you make, will be very different than yours. Be aware that your US based ethics, morals and values come back on the plane with you, and they do not feed that persons’ hungry children who are left behind.
3. Understand that in many countries the “law” and the criminals are the same guys. And, that includes the lawyers. You need to research this and determine before hand what to do in case you are the victim of a setup or involved in an accident. Ending up in a foreign jail is not nice!
4. Understand that in many countries and cultures physical violence is the first step taken in addressing a dispute or misunderstanding. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a chance to talk later.
5. Understand that your actions, innocent in the USA, may jeopardize the lives of locals. Meeting someone in a restaurant for example, may brand them as a spy for the company or worse off, an informer for the CIA.
6. Understand the capabilities and limitations of your company’s security department. Do not assume that the V.P. or Director of Security, sitting at corporate knows much about the foreign risks you may face. A good number do not. Ask around to see if anyone has ever met a V.P. or Director of Security who has admitted to not knowing about important risks to low level employees?
7. Understand that in the USA you may be a miserable Junior Auditor, but in many places your earnings put you at the top of the food chain, and you may be feared the same as if you where a member of the Board of Directors.
8. Understand that its OK to dress like a cool dude, a Southampton beach bum, a ghetto boy or a spoiled Princess in your spare time, in the USA. Doing so in many places around the world is an invitation to be robbed, sexually molested and even beaten.
With these things in mind, you should also ask the Audit Director or your Manager the questions below. If you are uncomfortable with anything, say so because in the end you will be the one responsible for your life, not someone in an air conditioned office 3,000 miles away:
- Are there any World Health Organization (WHO) travel restrictions or vaccine requirements in effect for the country in question. If so, is the company getting you vaccinated?
- Is the country or region on any CIA or State Department warning list for US citizens?
- If your company has been doing business in the country in question for some time, does it have a bi-lingual and/or bi-cultural staff in place to assist you. If not, why not?
- Has your project lead managed previous projects in the country in question and if not, why was he/she selected to lead this project. Is he/she qualified, someone’s favorite pet or simply the only one available?
- Is there an official report or area analysis assessing the region’s geography, politics, cultural, ethnic, religious and criminal activities so company personnel can obtain a quick education and know what to expect when they arrive?
- Have you been, or will you be briefed on how to handle instances of political unrest, terrorism and natural disasters at the places you are expected to work?
- Is there a properly documented and authorized company policy for foreign travel and work?
- What is the official company policy in the event an employee is kidnapped and held for ransom, in light of Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) restrictions?
- Does the company carry Kidnap, Ramsom and Extortion Insurance covering your work?
- Is there a Crisis Management Plan in place that can be executed, in the event there is a problem with an employee working overseas. And, if there is one, who is on the crisis management team and when was the plan last tested or exercised?
- If you are killed while working overseas, what is the process in place to handle the legal, transportation, funeral, family and financial issues that will have to be dealt with. Who will pay for your funeral?
- If you are held hostage for a significant period of time, what is the company’s policy regarding your compensation. Will they make payments to a family member and for how long?
- If your company holds an insurance policy on you, (Special Risks) which pays them as beneficiaries in case you die or are injured while working, does it cover your work overseas? If so, find out the history of this practice and details of any deaths and payouts. Does the practice indicate anything of concern?
- Do you have a Will in place that deals with the possibility of dying overseas. Do you have a Living Will that deals with the possibility of being in a critical condition at a foreign hospital?
- Do you have a medical and dental “dossier” on record with the company (respecting all HIPPA regulations), or with a close family member, which can be easily referenced by foreign and domestic medical personnel in the event you are hospitalized or your body needs to be identified?
- If you need medical attention while at the foreign location, has the company provided you with information on obtaining it from local doctors, hospitals or clinics?
- Have you been given information about the US Embassy and Consulates in the country where you will be working, and who and how to contact in case of an emergency?
- Will the company let you opt out of a particular trip if you are uncomfortable with the safety conditions at the destination and the type of security provided by the company. If not, what is the rationale and what are the guarantees provided to ease your concerns?
If you work for a company that has these things in place, and is experienced in sending people to work overseas, you’re in good shape. But, regardless of your company’s maturity level on this issue, it is your responsibility to make sure you do not put yourself in undue danger. Assume nothing and do not be shy about asking questions.
Many places around the world do not require excessive planning or precautions for “the worst case scenario,” but you need to be aware of the good places as well as the bad ones. Experienced international workers do not assume that all foreign engagements will be without challenges, surprises or risks. And, they do not wait until they are in danger to wonder how their companies will react, or if they can react at all.
Going through this type of exercise may seem unpleasant and uncalled for, especially if you hold the belief that most people are good, that all Americans are loved around the world, that there is no threat of terrorism, that the violence attributed to drug cartels is over rated, and that the disparity between rich and poor is a myth. If you hold these beliefs, I wish you the best and hope you are able to hold them for as long as possible, without reaching any life threatening situations.
For the young auditors and young consultants out there, excited about the travel and the life of an “expense account junkie,” I say go for it. Work hard and play hard, but do it with your eyes open and as safely as possible. And, always give yourself the option of not going if you sense the risks are too high or those tasked with protecting you are clueless, incompetent or irresponsible.
What do you think? Leave us some “Comments” regarding your views on this matter and perhaps some personal experiences as well.
- Kidnap & Ransom: Book inspired by Felix Batista’s kidnapping
- Crime in Mexico – Wikipedia citation
- Crime in Brazil – Wikipedia citation
- Crime and Violence in Latin America – Wikipedia citation
- African Criminal Enterprises – FBI
- Crime in China – Wikipedia citation
- Human Trafficking in Central Europe – Wikipedia citation
- Islamic Terrorism – Wikipedia citation
- Crime in India – Wikipedia citation
- Terrorists in India and Pakistan – Wikipedia citation
- Crime in Malaysia – Wikipedia citation
- Crime in Russia – Wikipedia citation
- Crime in Southern Europe (Italy) – Wikipedia citation
- Human Trafficking in Indonesia – Wikipedia citation
- The Drug Cartels – Wikipedia citation
- Human Trafficking – Wikipedia citation
- Organized Crime – Wikipedia citation