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ACC Australia sat down with Sylvain to get a better understanding of the story behind the inception of Whispli. 

ACC: There is a very unique story behind the inception of Whispli, can you share this story with ACC Australia members?

In 2012, I got a job at Leighton Contractors (now CPB, part of CIMIC) and my role was to optimise the spend as part of the Procurement team. Two months in, I was on probation my wife was pregnant when I noticed some invoices and decided to look up the vendors to check if everything was above board. It was a routine verification, and I had no idea of what I would discover. Using information provided by the procurement team, a five minute search on Google and a quick check on the company directory, I ended up finding that one of our vendors was actually fictitious and that 308 invoices had been sent by an employee to pay himself a total of $20.7m over a 12-year period. 

Long story short, I reported the fraud to my manager as I didn’t trust the traditional reporting channels the company had set up. The employee went to prison and Leighton asked me if I could look around to make sure nothing else was harming the company. 

After 2+ years of running multiple investigations, I realised that several employees knew about misconduct and wrongdoings but didn’t have the courage to speak up even though Leighton had a so called “third party whistleblowing service” provider in place, offering a hotline, fax, PO box, email address and form on the intranet. 

These reporting channels were too scary to use and all of them had the same feeling of fear that I had when I blew the whistle. The fear of not knowing what the response from the organisation will be, the fear of being wrong, of losing my job, etc. 

So in the end, what we missed as an organisation was a way to enable our best asset, our people, to speak up without fear or shame.

That was the catalyst for the inception of Whispli.

ACC: The fraud you uncovered went on for 12 years, why do you think this hadn’t been reported earlier?

In my view there are four reasons why it hadn’t been reported earlier:

  1. The first one is easy. I don’t know anyone who dreamt waking up on a Monday morning to become a whistleblower. It usually ends up badly and newspapers are here to remind us of that, on a weekly basis.
  2. When you work for a great company and you need the money to pay the bills and your mortgage, the last thing you want to do is to lose that job. This is even more true when you work in a remote area and job opportunities are scarce.
  3. The feeling of fear that I mentioned previously is definitely a key deterrent and unless you can take it away, then most individuals will never come forward. I should point out that another feeling, shame, is frequently observed in more “HR” related matters such as bullying, harassment and sexual harassment, where employees don’t want to go back to that story and don’t want a stranger or a colleague to be aware of it as words could propagate quickly to the entire company as well as friends and family. On top of that, victims quite often have a feeling of guilt and feel that they are part of the problem. In my case, I felt guilty of potentially destroying someone’s family and in cases of sexual harassment for instance, a victim would quite often feel guilty and blame themselves. 
  4. The lack of effective communication channels is also a major contributing factor to most people never speaking up when faced with a situation like the one I faced at Leighton. Indeed, how can we simply think that an employee will pick up the phone or send a fax or a letter assuming things are going to go smoothly? These channels are obsolete and in my view were set up decades ago because they were the only ones available at the time. But we never asked ourselves what it was like to be on the other side of the fence. We never really showed empathy to employees facing the dilemma of keeping their job or speaking up with a high probability they will lose it. In my case, I had 308 fake invoices and didn’t know if it was fraud or not, as at least 50 to 100 employees had seen these invoices before, and nobody said anything. Had I used the third party whistleblowing service, the operator would have picked up my lovely French accent and any other channel would either not have been anonymous or not enabling a two-way conversation in case the company was in need of more information.

ACC: Can you tell us a bit more about what went through your mind before speaking up? 

The only reason I reported the fraud was because I wanted to be a good role model for my children and if I didn’t do it, then how could I expect my kids to do it? So, it was somehow an irrational and risky decision that I made at the time. 

Minutes before speaking up, I felt like I was holding a gun in my hands and that I had the power to pull the trigger and destroy someone’s life. I had done nothing wrong and here I was blaming myself for something that someone else did consciously for twelve years. I was in a very scary and dark place and nobody ever asked me if I was okay or not, after I reported the fraud to the company.

ACC: With your experience as a whistleblowing, risk professional and now co-founder and CEO at Whispli what are the key points you recommend organisations should consider when establishing or reviewing their whistleblowing program?  

Nothing will ever be achieved without a genuine ethical culture and strong tone at the top of the organisation. 

Walking the walk and regular top down communication are a must. If my company is making it clear that it doesn’t tolerate any type of misconduct or wrongdoing and that it reports to the extent possible on what it does when a problem occurs, then it is helping employees build trust and feel more comfortable to speak up.

A code of conduct and whistleblower policy that is not a tick in the box document, but something that is built by a broad range of stakeholders from the organisation and is a reflection of the company culture is your second best bet to help your employees speak up when the time comes. That only works if they have been informed and trained on it, so it shouldn’t sit on the intranet hoping that your staff will miraculously find it and read it.

Appropriate reporting channels would be the third item on the list. But make sure they are relevant to your employee profile and that you test them yourself as if you were in the position of a whistleblower.

Using the word whistleblower, (like I did), is probably one of the best deterrents as it is a scary word. This is why at Whispli we talk about engaging in “trusted conversations” as at the end of the day, this is what it’s all about. 

ACC: Can you tell us a bit more about Whispli’s mission?

At Whispli, we are on a mission to democratise trusted conversations, so that employees can have a difficult or challenging conversation with their organisation without fear, shame or guilt. 

And they can have these conversations whether it is about well-being, remote/hybrid work due to COVID, safety, discrimination, bullying, burn out, fraud, corruption, etc.

What companies do these days is provide employees with a set of channels for each matter they would like to report within the organisation. So you might get a phone number and online form for fraud, but another phone number, a PO box and paper form if you want to report a safety concern, and yet another set of channels for HR matters or COVID related concerns. 

To speak up should be business as usual, but the complexity and number of channels makes it very confusing for employees and it is like asking them to become the pilot of a commercial plane for the first time! This is scary and most of us will never do it. 

The idea behind Whispli is to provide a secure and user-friendly platform for all employees with one set of reporting channels that are fit for the world we live in and are accessible on the web or a mobile app, from a single safe and anonymous inbox that an employee can keep for life. From that safe inbox, they can engage in a trusted conversation anonymously and only disclose their identity if they must or if they feel comfortable to do so. 

Within Whispli, a trusted conversation can be triggered by the employee themselves through a form that would be submitted via their safe inbox, or a live chat similar to an anonymous WhatsApp. But the company can also “incentivise” its employees to speak up about a certain topic by sending a pulse survey to all or part of its workforce. The pulse survey could ask if the employee has ever been subject to some type of bullying or harassment within the organisation and depending on the answer the system can ask if the employee would be comfortable in discussing anonymously about it so that the issue can be addressed and resolved. This is the most effective way to increase the number of conversations because the employees know that the organisation is “interested” in this topic in this particular pulse survey and are therefore more likely to come forward and speak up.

ACC: How does Whispli help the Legal/General counsel function in organisations?

The legal profession should think about Whispli as an early detection system, similar to a smoke alarm. Yes, sometimes it might go off at midnight and it could well be a false alarm, but the next day it could well wake you up at 3am and the house is covered in smoke, so it helped you save the family and the house. 

In most developed countries, including Australia, there is either a legislation and/or a set of regulations depending on the industry you operate in, that will require you to have appropriate and effective reporting channels so that your people can speak up safely and be protected from retaliation by protecting their identity.

And of course, the driver shouldn’t be the stick of a large fine for non-compliance, but it should be the benefits the company will see as on top of avoiding monetary losses and reputational damage, organisations will have a more engaged and productive workforce. This will in turn help enhance the company culture and reduce costly turnover and bad ratings on websites like “Glassdoor”. 

Whispli also offers a fully self-configurable case management so that organisations can manage swiftly and effectively all disclosures, while keeping the information and its audit trail. 

All the safeguards are built in to protect organisations information and reduce the risk of confidentiality breach.

All in all, Whispli is safeguarding the integrity of an organisation, by helping detect risks before they crystallise and damage the company financials and reputation. It is also a very powerful solution to limit harassment claims and costly settlements.

ACC: Does that mean there will be additional work for in-house legal teams? 

No, the platform is doing all of the legwork thanks to features such as automatic triage of conversations, investigation workflows and a very user-friendly interface. None of our customers have to hire more resources to deal with the increase in conversations as they can now handle matters early, before they become a time-consuming $20.7m fraud like in my case.

ACC: If ACC members would like to reach out to you, what is the best way to connect?

Sylvain: You can contact me directly via Linkedin, or send an email at

And if you missed the fireside chat between Justin and Sylvain here, you can access the recording on our website.