That the Covid-19 pandemic has wrecked havoc on global health systems and economies cannot be gainsaid. We continue to witness massive layoffs and business closures, and the organizations that continue to exist have had to implement austerity measures including but not limited to salary reductions and unpaid annual leave from work. Undoubtedly, livelihoods have been put at risk and it remains unclear how long the pandemic and its effects will persist. Consequently, individuals are experiencing unprecedented personal financial pressures of our times. Will this state of affairs push your individual and corporate stakeholders to engage in unethical activities?
In1950, Donald Cressey, a criminologist, started the study of fraud by arguing that there must be a reason behind everything people do. The result of his work led to the development of a classical model known as the fraud triangle theory. The theory hypothesized that “Trusted persons become trust violators when they conceive of themselves as having a financial problem which is non-shareable, are aware this problem can be secretly resolved by violation of the position of financial trust, and are able to apply to their own conduct in that situation verbalizations which enable them to adjust their conceptions of themselves as trusted persons with their conceptions of themselves as users of the entrusted funds or property”.
Abdullahi and Masoor (2015) summarized the extensive studies on perceived personal financial pressure with regards to Cressy’s hypothesis, as follows. Perceived pressure refers to the factors that lead to unethical behaviors. Every fraud perpetrator faces some pressure to commit unethical behavior (Abdullahi and Mansor, 2015a). These pressures can either be financial of non-financial pressures. Albrecht et al. (2006) pointed out that, since the pressure to commit fraud may not be real it is important to use the word perceived. If the perpetrators believed that they were pressurized, this belief could lead to fraud. Perceived pressure can exist in various ways, especially in non-sharable financial need. Financial pressure is recognized as the most common factor that lead an entity to engage in an evil action. Specifically, about 95% of all fraud cases have been perpetrated due to the fraudster’s financial pressures (Albrecht et al., 2006). Lister (2007) states that pressure is a significant factor to commit fraud. He determines three types of pressure which are personal, employment stress, and external pressure. Vona (2008) further examines personal and corporate forces as motivations’ proxies for fraud commitment. Examples of perceived pressure include greed, living beyond one’s means, large expenses or personal debt, family financial problem or health, drug addiction and gambling.
Lister (2007:63) defined the pressure to commit fraud as “the source of heat for the fire.” But having this pressure does not become a reason for someone to commit fraud. Murdock (2008) also argued that the pressure could be related to financial, non-financial, political and social. Political and social pressure occurs in a situation whereby a person feels and believes that they cannot afford to fail due to their status or reputation. According to Rae and Subramanian (2008) pressure relates to employees’ motivation to commit fraud because of greed or personal financial pressure. Along the same line, Vona (2008) and Rasha and Andrew (2012) believed that personal and corporate pressures are the key motive to commit fraud. The interaction of the elements above causes an individual to commit fraud (Rosefield, 1988; Vona, 2008; Okezie, 2012 and Rasha and Andrew, 2012). Chen and Elder (2007) recognized six basic categories for pressure as a transgression of obligations, personal problems, corporate inversion, position achievement and relationship between employees. Albrecht et al. (2008) categorized pressure in four groups including economic, vice, job-related and other pressures. Hooper and Pornelli (2010) opine that pressure can be either a positive or negative force.
It is therefore logical to leverage on these studies and apply the lessons to our times. We should reasonably expect that the Covid-19 pandemic knock-on effects that include the disruption of livelihoods will heighten personal financial pressure on an organization’s stakeholders resulting in a rise and severity of unethical activities including but not limited to fraud. Since concealment is an inherent attribute of unethical activities, organizations will be best served having in place a trusted, independent, anonymous whistle blowing hotline because studies have consistently demonstrated that tip offs are by far the leading means of uncovering unethical activities, and organizations with an independent hotline tend to receive more tip offs than those without.