With so much in the news about corporate misconduct and the sense of change in the air regarding global whistleblower protection regulations, our correspondent sought out a unique opportunity to talk about it with someone who’s down in the trenches in the fight against corporate misconduct.
In an exclusive interview with Money Buzz Europa, Nathan Mertens, the managing director of corruption watchdog Transparency Networks, discusses his life mission to promote transparency in the finance sector.
Thanks so much for taking this interview Nathan, I know you’re a busy guy.
Thanks for having me! I appreciate the opportunity to shed some more light on what we do, actually.
Let’s get started shedding that light then, first off what would you say is your life mission?
Well, when I worked in the finance industry, I bore witness to a vast amount of financial corruption. Over time I realized that my years of experience seeing that go on around me actually provided me with a unique opportunity and skillset to combat it. Giving people the knowledge and opportunity to do the right thing and combat the corruption rampant in the finance industry, sparking hope that there is actually something they can do about it, that’s my life mission. I am thrilled that the work I do now allows me to have the opportunity to take action against corruption and create a fairer and more just finance industry for all.
How did COVID-19 affect your daily operation?
Our difficulties during this time are very similar to a lot of other people’s challenges, I think. Everyone within our organization was and continues to be working from home, and of course we all had to adjust to solely virtual communication.
We also work closely with whistleblowers speaking out against financial corruption, and those types of conversations are often challenging at the best of times. These conversations often feel less personal or sensitive over the phone or via email, so we’ve had to be more creative with that side of our work.
We’ve also begun to rely more on our online research systems, which is undoubtedly more challenging than using the full array of research methods normally available to us. Despite all of these factors, though, we’ve had some great successes during this time, and we are proud of the things we’ve been able to achieve even though there’s a full-on pandemic going on around the world.
The industry you investigate makes a lot of money, and you don’t get any profit from it because you manage a non-profit organization. What drives you?
While I worked in the finance industry it was common to see fraud, corruption and greed overwhelming logic and morality… it was all so commonplace. I think if you work in that sort of environment long enough, it’s easy to get just used to it and believe that it’s excusable since it’s happening so often, especially if you are making good money or you’re benefitting directly from that corruption. For me, however, no amount of money was ever going to quiet my conscience. I could try and pretend that things weren’t that bad, or that I was just one person and couldn’t do anything about it. However, at the end of the day that little voice inside never goes away. It got to a point where I just couldn’t take it anymore, and I knew I had to do something. I know now that I am doing the right thing and that my energy and effort every day make a difference in the world, and no amount of money could ever replace that.
In your opinion, what is the current situation of the global regulatory system? Is it good or bad? How do you improve it?
I don’t think I would be doing the work I do now if I believed that the global regulatory system was perfect and didn’t need to change. It’s an understatement to say that there are significant issues and that we have a quite a long way to go, but every time someone fights financial corruption through the legal system and wins, the needle moves in the right direction.
I wish I had some easy answer or law to pass that would fix the entire industry all at once, however life isn’t that simple. It’s a very complicated issue with a lot of factors to consider. What I do know is that if I can help to correct that one injustice at a time, together as a world we move in the right direction. We must keep fighting for strong regulatory standards for the finance industry. One of the ways I ensure that we succeed is to make sure that the team around me is the best in the world.
People like my colleague, Adam Leos, make me believe in the power of what we’re doing. Adam successfully led a major whistle-blower case before joining our team at Transparency Networks. He is a highly respected and well-experienced professional who sticks to the highest ethical standards. I really believe that we need more people like him in the finance industry, as well as policing the finance industry.
Are you optimistic about the future? Is the corruption going on around the world going to be quelled someday or is it going to just spread and increase in severity?
Things will only get better, so long as we insist on and fight for strong regulatory standards for the finance industry. My career has led me to speak with some influential people on this subject, and I know that many lawmakers around the world are passionate about tackling this problem.
We also work closely with many pro-bono legal experts, investigators, due diligence agencies, and journalists who help the cause, often for free. They help us not only because of their strong moral character, but also because they know that a well-managed and regulated finance industry benefits everyone in the long run.
I couldn’t work with all of these amazing people, see all the change and good we accomplish, and remain pessimistic about the future. We are all in this together and though we still have a long way to go, as long as we continue to fight things will get better.
How did the “fake news” trend affect your methodology? Did you change your methods of research?
Actually, while the term “fake news” may only have been coined recently, the concept has been present for years. For everyone at Transparency Networks, we’ve always known not to take anything at face value and that we need to do our due diligence and fact-check our research thoroughly.
Unfortunately, we do live in a world in which you can’t always trust the honesty of business people, politicians, and other individuals who could be benefiting from corrupt dealings. That’s not a new trend at all.
Thank you so much for your time Nathan. Do you have any parting words for our readers?
I’d just like to leave them with a message of hope. Though it might not look like it a lot of the time, especially listening to the news, the world is actually getting better in many ways. Yes, there are significant issues and problems in the finance industry and beyond, and it’s not always so direct and easy to change things or improve the overall situation, however things are changing, things are getting better, and there is hope. Don’t give up, listen to your conscience and don’t be afraid to reach out for help. There are some amazing people and organizations all around the world who work tirelessly to combat fraud and corruption, and they would love to hear from you, Transparency Networks included. One person can make a huge difference.
You can learn more about Transparency Networks and their mission, as well as contact them directly at https:///www.transparencynetworks.com/