AB InBev Taps Machine Learning to Root Out Corruption

World’s largest brewer has set the bar for a new, data-driven approach to compliance

By Dylan Dokar

For many multinational companies, preventing bribery and corruption involves sending lawyers to far-flung places, holding meetings and web-based surveys, and interviewing uncooperative or uninformed employees.

It’s a human process, prone to bias and error. That is why it’s ripe for a more data-driven approach, experts say.

The company that appears to be ahead in solving this technological riddle isn’t in the tech sector. In fact, its main product—beer—predates the invention of the wheel.

Anheuser-Busch InBev SA, the world’s largest brewer, has spent three years developing machine-learning technology that can identify risky business partners and potentially illegal payments. The analytics platform, BrewRight, draws on data from operations in more than 50 countries, allowing the company to proactively monitor legal risks and prevent violations, instead of focusing on investigating problems after they arise.

The platform is designed to get smarter and more effective over time. It has cut hundreds of thousands of dollars in costs associated with investigating suspect payments. It has also placed the company—the brewer of Budweiser, Stella Artois and other beers—at the forefront of corporate anticorruption compliance.

“They have achieved something I have not seen anyone else achieve when it comes to integrating their various operational and financial data,” said Hui Chen, an independent consultant who helped prepare U.S. Justice Department guidance on evaluating corporate compliance programs and who has seen the platform up close.

A large company can make millions of payments daily. For most, accessing data on those transactions can be an expensive and time-consuming endeavor. But doing so could also be the key to stopping corruption before it happens. “Once you have the data you see the pattern and the pattern allows you to be predictive,” Ms. Chen said.

If fully realized, AB InBev’s efforts could pave the way for a new generation of corporate compliance—one where companies leverage internal data to create transparency. The approach could also reshape the expectations of law-enforcement agencies such as the Justice Department.

Full story here.