Hot on the heels of the UK Bribery Act coming into effect, the Financial Services Authority (FSA) have just imposed their biggest ever fine against Willis Limited (Willis) in relation to failings of anti-bribery and anti-corruption systems and controls. In a development that confirms anti-bribery and corruption issues are at the top of the FSA's agenda, Willis have been fined £6.895 million.

The FSA had discovered that Willis had made payments to overseas third parties amounting to £27m over a period of four years who assisted Willis in winning and retaining business from overseas clients. The fine was imposed because of failings in Willis' internal systems which had created a weak control environment around the payments to overseas third parties. This in turn had created the unacceptable risk that payments made by Willis to third parties overseas could be used for corrupt purposes, including paying bribes. In particular, the FSA's investigation found that Willis failed to: 

  • ensure payments to overseas third parties were supported by an adequate commercial rationale 
  • ensure the risk involved in doing business with such parties was evaluated via adequate due diligence 
  • regularly and adequately review its relationships with such parties to confirm whether it was necessary and appropriate to continue with them.

The FSA said "the involvement of UK financial institutions in corrupt or potentially corrupt practices overseas undermines the integrity of the UK financial services sector." Further, in respect of its fine against Willis, the FSA said it demonstrated its belief that "it is vital for firms not only to put in place appropriate anti-bribery and corruption systems and controls, but also to ensure that those systems and controls are adequately implemented and monitored."

During the investigation, Willis cooperated with the FSA and agreed to settle at an early stage. The firm therefore escaped a £9.85 million fine by qualifying for a 30% discount under the FSA's settlement discount scheme. Subsequently, Willis has endeavoured to address the failings identified by the FSA and committed to a review of payments made to overseas third parties made in the past in an effort to identify any inappropriate payments.