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In our final blog of this series, risk expert John Deverall explores accountability and responsibility

In my last blog, I talked about the principles of openness, transparency and clear decision making. 

These are critical to my sixth key point: “˜don’t forget discoverability’.

In the event of things going wrong, there may be an inquiry, hearing or court case that will scour in minute detail every email sent and action taken. Understand what legal privilege – what Americans call client-attorney privilege – covers and does not cover. Do not delay reporting or acting. Because if you do, it will be found out.

A friend who works in a well-known company told me that the company’s top management had been concerned for some months about possible connivance at corruption at MD level in one of their business divisions. Nothing was done.

But then these concerns were expressed in an email. I told my friend that it would be right to tell the company’s senior management that they needed to act without delay. I suggested that, worst case, the company should consider closing down that division.

No amount of investment in time, energy or money is so great that it cannot be sacrificed in the interests of doing the right thing.

Finally: “˜Understand and accept fully the implications of accountability and responsibility’.

With legislation such as the Senior Managers’ and Certification Regime (SMCR) in place since 2017, British banks and some other sectors are being obliged to get up to where, for example, the Army has been for many years.

To illustrate this: I was president of an Iraqi-abuse court martial in the aftermath of the second Gulf war. It was the only court martial, so far as I know, which sent down all the soldiers who were the defendants, dismissing them from the service and sending them to prison.

It was clear from the statements made by their officers in the witness box that the soldiers had been let down: no leadership, no guidance by the officers who all gave excuses as to why they were not with their soldiers and not taking an active interest in what they were doing.

I therefore wrote to the head of the Army after the court martial, recommending that the officers should be held accountable for what the soldiers had done. As a result, the officers were subjected to an administrative process and had their promotion stopped. A number then left the Army.

On a more minor level, as a commanding officer, I was questioned under oath by a member of the Special Investigation Branch about the theft of money from my battalion by a regimental accountant who was addicted to gambling on horse-racing.

If I had not been able to prove that I had put in place the procedures and the training to minimise the likelihood, my career would have been dead in the water. And rightly so.

In essence, we as leaders in all and any sectors need to be – and to be seen to be – accountable to those to whom we delegate responsibility. That means that we will:

  • select carefully those to whom we delegate responsibility;
  • train,resource and support them sufficiently to enable them to fulfil the responsibilities that we give them;
  • be clear to them about the parameters within which they can act;
  • trust and empower them to take decisions without referring back to us – unless the situation is novel or contentious.

We can thus have confidence that those who work for us will do the right thing and will trust us, knowing that they have our full support to put things right in the event of a potential crisis.

And if whatever goes wrong becomes public, then we will willingly carry the can and be seen to do so.


John Deverall CBE is a member of the Resilience First board. He leads Deverell Associates (, helping family offices and their advisers to deal more effectively with risks. His company’s motto is “The Prepared Mind”.

This blog is adapted from “˜The “˜prepared mind’ at a time of crisis’ by John Deverell, taken from the ninth issue of the new The International Family Offices Journal, published by Globe Law and Business. See


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