History has shown us that crises lead to major disruptions in our systems at all levels. Sadly, there are many opportunists willing to take advantage of these temporary lapses to further their own wellbeing through favoritism and out-and-out corruption. This occurs in both the public and private sectors in the form of preferential treatment, quid pro quos, bribery and insider trading. The COVID-19 pandemic has been no exception, leaving a devastating mark on communities and the global economy for years to come. Pre-COVID, corruption cost the global economy $3.6 trillion each year and one can only imagine what this figure will be in the wake the pandemic. Unfortunately, this impact is disproportionately correlated with countries that struggle with inequality and social exclusion, as corruption is closely interrelated with unequal distribution of wealth, power and opportunity.

As a product of the disruption, the pandemic has also dramatically accelerated the adoption of technology across industries and markets – the compliance industry has no choice but to also accelerate its approach to high-tech solutions in their fight on corruption and fraud. Even pre-COVID-19, in a 2019 survey of managers in the compliance space, 97% stated they believe technology can significantly help with bribery, corruption and other financial crime prevention.

As the G20 plans to hold its first Anti-Corruption Ministerial meeting this October, member states have an opportunity to reaffirm the critical role of emerging technologies in their efforts to curb corruption and fraud, particularly in the areas of digital identity and public national registers. This will also afford them the opportunity to gauge interest in and tactics for public-private data sharing in these areas. The business community has a crucial role here. The private sector has led the way in the digitalization space and can offer a variety of lessons learned, including in digital identity and information-sharing. Leading that effort will be the B20, who will be in attendance to take part in these conversations.

A pre-condition to enhancing trustworthiness, compliance and convenience, businesses must begin by establishing open-source digital identity standards for individuals and companies. Such platforms would streamline current compliance procedures, which are heavily reliant on expensive manual and paper-based redundant processes. There is a perception that digital identities are primarily associated with the banking industry – while the sector has led the way and provided a rollout for these systems, digital identities represent an opportunity for effective risk management across all sectors, enabling more streamlined and comprehensive due diligence. In particular, the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the Financial Action Task Force and the European Union have made great progress in advancing digital identity, but more work remains to be done to ensure the comprehensive and consistent adoption of the associated standards across international governments and global business.

An extension of digital identity, beneficial ownership transparency and public registers will allow us to put these systems into practice, creating an opportunity for greater information sharing and enhanced transparency. Today, more than 80 countries have adopted legislation establishing national registers of beneficial ownership information, but many G20 member states have no such structures. A publicly accessible register built on open data standards enhances corporate due diligence, provides law enforcement with data to support their investigations, enables data verification and promotes transparency among public and private sector participants. Though steps must be taken to address a trust gap among some stakeholders – oftentimes a byproduct of misaligned data protection laws, systemic corruption and general resistance to emerging technologies – the adoption of uniform national registers of beneficial ownership information will allow the compliance industry to truly excel in the 21st century.

However, as we know, corruption recognizes no borders and poses an international threat. The adoption of digital identity and national registers are crucial, but without the proper international buy-in, they are woefully insufficient. Information-sharing is a powerful tool, and will allow business, law enforcement and governments to take their compliance efforts to the next level.

As technology continues to rapidly evolve and profoundly transform the public and private sectors, it is vital we invest in and leverage new technology designed to facilitate detection, investigation and reporting of corruption. Such technologies would serve to promote transparency and accountability, as well as to mitigate third party-related corruption risks through reducing systemic information asymmetries, enabling greater collaboration among participating stakeholders and reducing administrative processes and manual overrides of automated procedures.

Given the increasingly complex global compliance landscape, it is no surprise that investment in regulatory technology continues to accelerate rapidly. Yet without strong cooperation across the global business community, governments and multilateral organizations, these investments can only go so far. Ethical growth is a precondition for inclusive and long-lasting growth – all parties must keep compliance and transparency front-of-mind, particularly as we begin rebuilding our economies, societies and businesses in the aftermath of COVID.


Mathad Al-Ajmi is Chair of the Integrity & Compliance Taskforce at B20 Saudi Arabia and Vice President and General Counsel at Saudi Telecom Company (stc).