Dealing With Fraud Risk

Since the onset of the global financial crisis in 2007, the number of fraud cases reported at work has risen and yet still many organisations are struggling to implement effective and efficient anti-fraud strategies. History has taught us that, lack of proper fraud detection and prevention systems and controls within the organisation, can actually bankrupt a business. In this article, I look at strategies that an organisation can use to keep ahead of fraudsters and also look at organisations that collapsed as a result of undetected fraud.

According to KPMG’s Fraud Barometer, 2009 saw 123 cases of serious fraud by employees and managers, the most since the barometer began 22 years ago. Crimes carried out by managers accounted for £335 million of losses and employees committed £232 million of fraud last year.

The same year, the City regulator The FSA handed down record fines of nearly £35 million as a result of a range of offences, but interestingly some involving failure by financial firms to guard against employee fraud.

Fraud at work comes in different forms. It includes activities like employees and managers stealing money or merchandise on the job, falsifying invoices, falsely claiming expenses, misusing company credit cards or redirecting computer fund transactions.

Employers need to understand why employees and managers commit fraud. Is it because of:

Personal financial problems/ struggling with debt.

Dissatisfaction. The more dissatisfied an employee is at work, the greater the chances that he or she is tempted to commit fraud. For example, if an employee feels he or she is not compensated fairly, he is more likely to steal money or merchandise on the job to balance the scales.

Pressure. The demands of work or personal life exerted on employees can also cause them to commit fraud. In the case of work, take for example a high-flying city trader. His compensation is based on the amount of profit he makes on his trades.

Because of volatility in the global financial markets, for example, one event or piece of news can wipe off all his profits. In that regards, the trader is tempted to commit fraud to cover up for all his losses.

Pressure to live a high quality life beyond our means can also cause employees to commit fraud. The desire to possess expensive cars, clothing, houses etc. and enjoy flash holidays can actually push an employee or manager to committing fraud.

Sometimes it could be that a loved one or friend is very ill and there are no financial resources to pay for the treatment. People are then forced to commit fraud to meet this need.

Inadequate control systems at work. Some smart employees might just commit fraud because they saw a window of opportunity to do so even if it was not their intention in the first place.

An example is the case of Jerome Kerviel, a former French trader who was charged in 2008 for committing 5bn euros fraud whilst woring for Societe Generale.

According to the facts of the case, Jerome joined the bank in 2000 where he moved from the back office to become a junior trader in the dealing room. His experience in the back office, where millions of trades are processed, enabled him to manipulate the computer systems to commit fraud and hide his losses.

Although Kerviel did not personally profit from this fraud, it just shows that where internal controls are not monitored and there is too much focus on profits, employees will take advantage of that and manipulate the whole system with the employer left to clear the mess.

Having established why fraud might take place, employers also need to look at the red flags. Some of the red flags that might lead to detecting fraud include:

Noticeable change in lifestyle or wealth: Has the employee all of a sudden bagged himself or herself some nice goodies especially if they haven’t won a lottery or got promoted at work?

Change in spending habits: Is the employee now spending extravagantly than before?

Longstanding financial difficulties: If the employee has longstanding debt or other financial obligations that you are aware of, how is he or she copying in meeting those commitments?

Change in work habits raising questions: Is the employee overly protective of his work, documentation or computer system? Is the employee spending much of his or her time alone?

Increase in personal problems for example legal cases: How often does the employee take time off to attend legal hearings or use the office address to receive personal letters? Does the employee have a past criminal record?

Weak code of ethics at work: Is the employee always questioning the best approach to work? Is he always trying to work his own way and beat the system?

After identifying the root causes and symptoms of fraud, the next stage is implementing fraud prevention and detection techniques. Below are some considerations that might be useful to your organization:

  • Conduct training in fraud awareness. Employees need to know what constitutes fraud.
  • Establish a reporting system which allows for reporting of unethical behavior and whistleblowing.
  • Ensure continuous improvement of internal systems and controls. For example having multiple signatories on big financial transactions or sharing responsibilities when it comes to purchasing.
  • Promote ongoing risk assessment within the organization. This will help identify problem areas not identified before.
  • Develop a sound ethical culture which is committed to reducing the risks of fraud.
  • Check and screen both long-serving and new employees.
  • In addition to the Code of Ethics, have a Fraud Policy which details how a detected or suspected fraud case will be dealt with. Every employee should be aware of the existence and contents of this policy.

Fraud risk management should be part and parcel of the overall strategy of the business. The earlier the risks of fraud are detected and dealt with, the better.

As the old saying goes, “Prevention is better than cure”, it is better to act now than later. By the time the Enron Executives were caught, it was already too late resulting in the collapse of the giant energy company, Enron Corporation.

The same happened to Barings Bank. The actions of only one man, Nick Leeson, brought the once regarded, “Personal bank to HM the Queen” to its knees.

Thanks for sharing:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Subscribe to get notified of new posts by email

Recent Posts


Leading in Uncertain Times

One of the biggest challenges facing business leaders today is making the right decisions that will ensure their organizations succeed, survive, and remain competitive in an increasingly uncertain and complex environment.

A recent post, The best way to lead in uncertain times may be to throw out the playbook, by Strategy+Business has several good points.

The article is about the COVID-19 pandemic, how global companies navigated through the crisis, and how best to prepare for future disruptions. Here are some key points and my comments.

  • Rather than follow a rigid blueprint, executives must help organizations focus on sensing and responding to unpredictable market conditions.
    • Comment: Senior leaders play a vital role in providing clarity about the organization’s strategic direction, creating alignment on key priorities to ensure the achievement of enterprise objectives, and ensuring the business model is continuously evolving to create and capture value in the face of uncertainty. They must not rest on their laurels and stick to the beliefs and paradigms that got them to where they are today and hope they will carry them through tomorrow. Regulatory changes, new products, competition, markets, technologies, and shifts in customer behavior are upending many outdated assumptions about business success. Thus, the businesses you have today are different from the ones you will need in the future hence the importance of continuously sensing changes in the global economy. Employees and teams often feed off the energy of their leaders and tend to focus their attention where the leader focuses attention. If the leader is comfortable with current business practices and rarely embraces the future or challenges the status quo, then the team is highly likely to follow suit.
  • When it became clear that supply chains and other operations would fracture, organizations began scenario planning to shift production sources, relocate employees, and secure key supplies.
    • Comment: Instead of using scenario planning to anticipate the future and prepare for different outcomes, it seems most of the surveyed organizations used scenario planning as a reactionary tool. Don’t wait for a crisis or a shift in the market to start thinking about the future. The world is always changing. As I wrote in The Resilient Organization, acknowledge that the future is a range of possible outcomes, learn and develop capabilities to map out multiple future scenarios, develop an optimal strategy for each of those scenarios, then continually test the effectiveness of these strategies. This does not necessarily mean that every change in the market will impact your business. Identify early warnings of what might be important and pay closer attention to those signals. In other words, learn to separate the signals from the noise.
  • The pandemic forced the organization’s senior management team to re-examine how all decisions were made.
    • Comment: Bureaucracy has for a very long time stood in the way of innovation and agility. To remain innovative and adapt quickly in a fast-changing world, the organization must have nimble leadership and an empowered workforce where employees at all levels can dream up new ideas and bring them to life. Identifying and acting on emerging threats and potential opportunities is not the job of the leader alone but every team member. To quote Rita McGrath, in her book Seeing Around Corners, she writes, “Being able to detect weak signals that things are changing requires more eyes and ears throughout the organization. The critical information that informs decision-making is often locked in individual brains.” In addition to the internal environment, the leader must also connect with the external environment (customers, competitors, regulators, and other stakeholders), looking for what is changing and how.
  • It’s worthwhile for leaders of any team to absorb the lessons of sense-respond-adapt, even if there is no emergency at hand.
  • Sensing: Treat the far-flung parts of your enterprise as listening stations. The question leaders must ask is, “What are we learning from our interactions beyond the usual information about costs and sales?” Train your people to listen for potentially significant anomalies and ensure that important information is not trapped in organizational silos.
    • Comment: Cost and sales data are lagging indicators that reveal the consequences or outcomes of past activities and decisions. Although this information can help leaders spot trends by looking at patterns over time, it doesn’t help understand the future and inform what needs to be done for the numbers to tell a different story. In addition to lagging indicators, pay attention to current and leading indicators and understand the relationship between these indicators and outcomes.
  • Responding: Improve communication across intra- and inter-organizational boundaries. Leaders should view business continuity as an essential function that acts as connective tissue for the enterprise.
    • Comment: In addition to creating mechanisms that allow the free flow of information both inside and outside the organization, decision-makers should also be comfortable receiving information that challenges their personal view of the world, even if it’s not what they want to hear. Create a culture of psychological safety where people are not afraid to share bad news for fear of getting punished, but rather are acknowledged and rewarded for speaking up. Leveraging the diversity of thought enables leaders to anticipate the future as an organization, decide what to do about it collectively, and then mobilize the organization to do what’s necessary.
  • Adapting: Challenge assumptions, and question orthodoxies. There’s always the temptation to mitigate threats simply by applying existing practices harder and faster. One way to get at those deeper issues and encourage double-loop learning is to ask, “What needs to be true for this to be the right approach?”
    • Comment: In an increasingly uncertain environment, it’s difficult to survive and thrive with an old business model or outdated technologies. Many businesses fail because they continue doing the same thing for too long, and they don’t respond quickly enough and effectively when conditions change. As a leader, stay curious and connected to the external environment, look for market shifts, understand what needs to be regularly refreshed and reimagined, adopt new technologies and capabilities, and adapt in ordinary times but also during times of transition. Unfortunately for many leaders, it’s just more convenient for them to continually downplay the fact that conditions are changing than take the appropriate course of action that drives business success.

How are you preparing your organization for potential future disruptions?

Thanks for sharing:

The Collaborative Organization

These days the term collaboration has become synonymous with organizational culture, creativity, innovation, increased productivity, and success.

Let’s look at the COVID-19 pandemic as an example. At the peak of the crisis, several companies instructed their workers to adopt remote working as a health and safety precautionary measure.

Two years into the pandemic, they are now asking their employees back to the office full time or are planning to adopt a hybrid model.

The need to preserve our collaborative culture and accelerate innovation are two of the top benefits being cited by organizational and team leaders for bringing workers back.

Collaboration is indeed essential for the achievement of team goals, functional objectives, and the overall success of the organization.

Today’s breakthrough innovations are emerging from many interacting teams and collaborative relationships.

When teams, functions, and organizations collaborate, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts; group genius emerges, and creativity unfolds.

But, what makes a successful collaboration? What are the key enabling conditions?

  • It extends beyond the boundaries of the organization. Business success is a function of internal and external relationships. Instead of viewing your business in vacuo, understand that you are part of an ecosystem. External to your organization, who do you need to partner with to enhance your value creation processes, achieve/exceed your objectives, or successfully execute your strategy?
  • Ensure the objectives are clear and there is shared understanding by everyone. Unclear objectives are one of the topmost barriers to team and organizational performance.
  • Foster a culture that encourages opinions and ideas that challenge the consensus. People should feel free to share their ideas and not hold back for fear of others penalizing them or thinking less of them. Collaboration is hindered when one or two people dominate the discussion, are arrogant, or don’t think they can learn anything from others.
  • Groups perform more effective under certain circumstances, and less effective under others. There is a tendency to fixate on certain topics of discussion amongst groups which often leaves members distracted from their ideas. To reduce the negative effects of topic fixation, members of the group should be given periods to work alone and switch constantly between individual activity and group interaction.
  • Effective collaboration can happen if the people involved come from diverse backgrounds and possess complementary skills to prevent conformity. The best collective decisions or creative ideas are often a product of different bodies of knowledge, multiple opinions, disagreement, and divergent thought processes, not consensus or compromise.
  • New technologies are making collaboration easier than ever, enabling us to increase our reach and broaden our network. Although new technology helps, it will not make your organization collaborative without the right culture and values in place. First, define what you want to achieve through collaboration then use these tools to promote creative collaboration.

How else are you championing collaboration within your organization to create value and succeed?

Thanks for sharing:

Preparing for Geopolitical Shocks

Geopolitical instability has steadily increased over the past years, and uncertainty in the global economy is at an all-time high. Thanks to globalization and advances in technologies, we now live and work in a tightly interconnected world, one in which the boundaries that previously separated domestic from global issues have disappeared.

Threats are no longer confined to traditional political borders, social structures, and geographic boundaries. Geopolitical shifts have dramatically altered the global economic landscape and brought politics and business together.

The rise of China as an economic and politically influential power has threatened the dominance of the United States as the world’s largest economy. Although the opening of China and a market of 1.4 billion people have benefited both countries, it has also intensified competition and sparked U.S. economic and technological espionage accusations against China, leading to strained relations between the two giants.

U.S. companies operating from China have felt the impact of this tense relationship. The opposite is true for Chinese companies in the U.S.

Across Europe, national populism is on the rise and now a serious force. In 2016, the United Kingdom shocked the world when it voted to leave the European Union, generating reverberating effects across markets.

Banks and financial services companies that once benefited from the EU passporting system have had their cross-border banking and investment services to customers and counterparties in the many EU Member States impacted, causing them to reimagine their value proposition models.

The recent invasion of Ukraine by Russia is another example of a geopolitical event that has had devastating effects on human livelihood and businesses. Although the conflict between the two countries has risen over the years, I think it’s fair to say that few political analysts, governments, and businesses predicted a war to happen.

The war has created a humanitarian crisis, rattled global commodity and energy markets, caused prices to soar, and forced many international companies to temporarily suspend their Russian activities or completely cut ties with the country.

Global supply chains which are already fragile and sensitive due to the COVID-19 pandemic are now facing new challenges in the aftermath of the Russia-Ukraine crisis. Multilateral economic sanctions have been imposed on Russia. A state of affairs that was unthinkable months ago and is now threatening to derail the nascent global economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Given the global domino effect of geopolitical events and the shrinking of the distance between markets and politics, the need to better understand and more effectively mitigate geopolitical risk has become more urgent. The business impacts, whether direct or indirect, vary by company type and industry sector.

Your company may not be able to prevent wars between nations, but you can anticipate and better prepare for geopolitical shocks:

  • Integrate strategy, risk, and performance decision-making. Consideration of risks to business success is an important part of the strategy selection and execution process, not an afterthought.
  • Develop a better understanding of geopolitical trends and how they are changing. For example, what are the megatrends in business, politics, and technology that are making geopolitical risks more diverse, prevalent, and consequential?
  • Assess the links between these geopolitical events and business performance. What are the events that matter most to your business? For example, how might current global political trends pose physical, business, and reputational risks to your parent organization?
  • Anticipate how these trends are likely to play out in the short, medium, and long terms, and develop mitigation strategies for each geopolitical scenario. Proactively anticipate and plan for radically different worlds, instead of reacting to problems as they arise
  • Review your mitigation strategies as the world changes. Are they effective enough in case of a major shock?
  • Develop capabilities for continuous learning to anticipate, address, and recover from geopolitical crises.

What do you think?

Thanks for sharing: