Male, 36 - 45 years old, works in the finance function or in a finance-related role, holds a senior management position, employed by the company for more than 10 years, works in collusion with another perpetrator.
Analysis of 348 actual fraud investigations conducted by KPMG member firms in 69 countries suggests that the above is the portrait of a typical office fraudster. But spotting fraud in your own company is not as simple as singling out all those who fit the above credentials. And nor would doing just that be either moral or appropriate. Fraud is indeed a recurring nightmare for management, shareholders and investors. With the value of fraud perpetrated by employees on the rise, increasing 10% in the last year according to our recent Fraud Barometer, here are a few warning signs to look out for which may indicate that fraud is being committed within your company:
1. Rarely takes holidays
Whilst not taking holidays initially appears an HR or wellbeing issue, it is worth considering that this could be an indicator that an employee does not wish to leave his/her work open to the scrutiny of colleagues in his absence.
2. Refuses or does not seek promotion or rotation and gives no reasonable explanation
Career progression or work rotation is highly desirable for the majority but if an employee refuses this on more than one occasion, it could be an indicator that something is going on under the radar so to speak. Management must take the time to understand how their employees work with others in the department, if an employee insists on working in isolation when this is not always appropriate, this could be a warning sign.
3. Is suspected to have over-extended personal finances or excessive lifestyle
Greed is one of the key motivations to committing fraud. Management should be alert to the fact that overnight inheritances, newly established opulent lifestyles and excessive personal expenditure may all point to fraudulent behaviour. The recent case of a former secretary who embezzled half a million pounds from a company to spend on private jets, luxury cars and Premier League football tickets is just one such example.
4. Defensive mechanisms
Whilst this is a slightly contentious area, managers should be able to use their best judgement. There have been many cases of employees inventing illnesses as a mechanism to act as a buffer to challenge. If an employee is creating defence mechanisms to prevent questioning over transactions or performance, there may be reason to be extra vigilant. This is particularly the case where answers to straightforward questions are ever changing and inconsistent.
5. Senior managers with unusual spheres of influence
When the CFO banks cash takings or a senior manager is involved in purchasing decisions outside of his function, ask the question: why? In relation to the first of these it is important that all businesses can trace all fund inflows from source to bank with appropriate segregation of duties.
6. Expenses, expenses, expenses…
Several recent stories have appeared of significant expenses frauds. They are also a good indicator of an employee’s honesty: many fraudsters overstate their expenses in addition to their main crime. Use of data analytics over expenses is to be encouraged; looking for perennial over-spenders or spikes in claims.
7. Accounts not reconciled to underlying records
As our most recent Fraud Barometer attests, management fraud is on the increase with fraud perpetrated at senior levels now making up 55% of cases. One common management fraud is presenting the business as performing better than it is; manipulating the financial results. It is often the case in such situations that key accounting reconciliations are suspended to enable the manipulation to go undetected.
8. Elsewhere in the industry, companies are struggling and sales and/or profits are declining. Your business appears to buck the trend
Over performance against peers is generally good news, however, independent directors and the board must get comfortable as to how this has been achieved. Are such explanations underpinned by data and support which evidences a competitive advantage?
9. Excessive secrecy about a function and its operations
Certain business leaders have an uncanny habit of avoiding or postponing scrutiny, such as internal audit reviews, for seemingly plausible reasons. Such avoidance activity should not be accepted on a repeated basis.
10. Posting to vulnerable balance sheet accounts
When funds are stolen or accounts are manipulated the perpetrator will need to process an accounting entry to disguise the underlying transaction. Invariably, certain balance sheet accounts are used such as suspense accounts or other accounts (such as VAT or PAYE) that are rarely fully reconciled. Unexpected build up of balances on such accounts requires challenge.
As the number of recorded fraud cases testifies, sometimes spotting a sophisticated office fraudster is difficult. Taking preventative action before a crime is committed will significantly reduce the costs incurred by fraud which, in the current climate, can have a devastating impact as businesses struggle to keep afloat. Taking the following practical steps may discourage fraudsters:
Fraud vulnerability assessment
Establish a strong anti-fraud zero tolerance culture – starting from the top through repeated education and awareness. Fully assess and address where in the business operations there are vulnerabilities to fraud and impropriety.
Empower and support your best fraud detectors
Arm yourself with greater detection mechanisms such as: fraud awareness training encouraging employees to speak up when they have concerns, and data analytics to identify potential fraudulent behaviour.
Investigate when put on notice
Too often indicators or suspicions are ignored with the consequence that when the problem is later discovered it has grown exponentially. Set a clear process by which issues are investigated and seek a high standard in terms of showing that a suspicion requires no further investigation.
Original article appeared in Management Today - 20th July
This article represents the views of the author only, and does not necessarily represent the views or professional advice of KPMG in the UK.