From whistleblowing pioneer to global contact centre exemplar
03 October 2018 | Web Article Number: ME201812047
SOME 20 years after its establishment, Deloitte’s pioneering whistleblowing service, Tip-offs Anonymous, continues to grow from strength to strength, its ongoing success a source of pride to co-founder Guy Brazier, who recently retired from the professional services firm after 35 years’ service.
“We knew when we launched that there was a need for such a facility, but we never imagined just how successful it would prove,” recalls Brazier, who has served Deloitte in a number of key roles over the years, including Managing Partner of the KwaZulu-Natal region.
Today, Deloitte Tip-offs Anonymous supports clients in more than 100 countries in several languages. Working from a high-tech base of operations in KZN, its staff process more than 1000 tip-offs a month. But in the months leading up to its launch in 1999, a dedicated, independent and anonymous disclosure service to report fraud and unethical behaviour was a novel concept in South Africa.
Brazier and his colleagues were convinced the idea had promise. “Back then, as is the case today, the majority of fraud and collusion was detected from tip-offs. But at the time, there was no formal independent and anonymous mechanism to receive and co-ordinate such information.”
Deloitte’s South African leadership team was very interested in the idea of presenting to clients an innovative solution to deal with these challenges, so Brazier and co-founder Brian Adams, – were tasked with pitching the service to a selection of the firm’s top clients. “Most of them became subscribers of the service when it was launched and many continue to use Tip-offs Anonymous to this day,” says Brazier.
He credits the rapid uptake with the service’s simple, yet powerful value proposition. “It was, and remains, pretty much a no brainer. It is a solution to a huge problem that exists in the private and public sector, a way of detecting and preventing the significant proportion of fraud that isn’t picked up by traditional management and internal control measures and procedures.”
Additional selling points are the service’s deterrent value and its cost effectiveness, a fraction of the cost of a single security guard who is restricted to a single location and shift. Tip-offs Anonymous, by contrast, operates 24 hours a day, every day of the year across all of a client’s operations or offices in South Africa and, if required, across the globe.
One client’s first tip-off yielded information that assisted the company in recovering funds to pay for 15 years of the Tip-offs Anonymous’ services. A series of calls related to another client revealed a simmering labour relations issue, allowing the company to proactively avert a strike which would have cost an estimated R1 million a day.
Success stories like these proved powerful ammunition for Brazier in the years following Tip-offs Anonymous’ launch as he criss-crossed the country and the globe showcasing the service to other Deloitte member firms, clients and industry bodies.
It wasn’t all plain sailing, though. Brazier recalls that in the early days of the service, the term “tip-off” had negative “informer linked” connotations. However, Brazier credits Deloitte’s strong brand recognition for giving Tip-offs Anonymous the reputational gravitas required to transform whistleblowing into an accepted part of corporate culture. “Today, having a credible whistleblowing facility for staff is viewed as integral to sound corporate governance and I believe Tip-offs Anonymous plays a major role in that.”
So successful has it proved in this respect that Tip-offs Anonymous has not only retained its early standing as the country’s premier independent whistleblowing service, it also provided input to South Africa’s first whistleblowing legislation – the Protected Disclosure Act 26, 2000 – and the country’s official hotline accreditation guidelines, which were based on the Deloitte model.
Almost 20 years of service has meant staying relevant and Tip-offs Anonymous has evolved over the years, changing its focus from just fraud and crime to a more expansive role that incorporates ethics as a whole. Brazier substantiates this by adding that subscribers prefer to brand and market it as an “ethics”, rather than a “fraud” line.
Keeping up with the latest technology has also played a key role in ensuring Tip-offs Anonymous’ pre-eminence, not only in successfully protecting the service from ever-more sophisticated security threats, but in providing a wider array of methods by which to make contact as well as how to make tip-off reports available to clients.
With this scale has come other advantages. “We’re able to pick up trends across industries and sectors, a perspective that wouldn’t be available to smaller, more siloed services,” says Brazier citing the example of cartels moving between corporates in the same industry.
Based on the success of the South African service, Deloitte member firms across a number of other continents have established Tip-offs Anonymous offerings in their respective markets, with interest from African countries and Europe seeing particular growth in recent years.
“As I take my leave of Deloitte after 35 stimulating and rewarding years, it’s gratifying to think that Tip-offs Anonymous has not only have paved the way for mainstream adoption of corporate and public sector whistleblowing in South Africa, but has advanced a trusted and secure global mechanism for whistle-blowing disclosures from right here in KZN,” concludes Brazier.