AccountingWEB has teamed up with its UK sister site, AccountingWEB.co.uk, to present a series that explores the lives of members of the accounting profession. Jim Gee, director of counter fraud services at MacIntyre Hudson, gives AccountingWEB an insight into his working life.
My role is essentially about reducing the financial cost of fraud to all organizations. I have a range of clients from both public and private sectors, as well as regulators. I also work internationally advising the European Healthcare Fraud and Corruption network.
Counter fraud work has come of age over the last 10 years. There's been a shift from people thinking that all you have to do around fraud is detection, investigation, and maybe a few prosecutions (all of which happens after the fraud has taken place), to trying to pre-empt fraud losses. This is much more about measuring losses accurately – after all, if you don't know what the problem is, how on earth can you apply the right solution? Once you know the nature of the problem, you can revise the systems and processes to ensure the opportunities aren't there.
The risks of fraud are pretty generic, whether it's in different parts of the UK economy (public or private sector) or between countries. The civil legal concept remains the same. That's a barrier you have to get over with people – in many other countries people think all you have to do is wait for it to happen and react to it. I spend much of my time explaining that there's a lot you can do to stop it in the first place, and your organization can be a lot more financially stable if you can do that.
Counter fraud specialists are growing in number. In 2001 the government established the new counter fraud professional accreditation board and I was the first vice chair of that board. Since that time we’ve had 13,000 people accredited to foundation level and on to advanced level, degree level, and masters level.
People who work in counter fraud come from a variety of backgrounds; some from accountancy and audit, some are former police officers (although these are in a small minority now), and some who have worked in a particular field and have sector-specific knowledge, including pharmacists, doctors, and dentists. There are advantages in having people who already know the sector and context of the organization in which the fraud has arisen.
My route has taken me through many different sectors. I got a degree in economics from the London School of Economics and worked on the civil service, headed up a counter fraud team in central government for 11 years. For eight years between 1990 and 1998 I set up and headed up counter fraud units in three of the toughest London authorities: Islington, Harringay, and then I was appointed to head up the corporate counter fraud team in Lambeth shortly after it was described the most corrupt local authority in the country. I then went on to advise Frank Field, chair of the social security and select committee, before moving on to the NHS, where I was appointed as the first NHS counter fraud specialist. After that, I was a director in KPMG's forensic unit before making the move to my current role.
Since it's a relatively new profession, CPD arrangements are still in development. I'm chair for counter fraud studies at University of Portsmouth, which is the largest academic fraud centre anywhere in the world, so that's how I keep up with things.
The best counter-fraud innovations can come from the least obvious places. The assumption is that the best ideas come from America and Europe but this isn't always the case. I was at a World Health Organization Conference in Bangkok and some of the best ideas put forward were from people trying to stop health care fraud in Bolivia. Instead of stoic ranks of counter fraud specialists marching in line to tackle the problem, they came up with some innovative (and very cost-effective) solutions. Their lack of available resources meant they had to be a bit cleverer in tackling the problem.
One of the most important tools of the trade is my database of fraud loss measurement exercises from around the world. I have the most extensive data on exactly what types of expenditure and exactly what types of organizations it’s been done in and that enables me when talking to a client to consider the specific nature of their organization and find the closest match. It’s that sort of database of both problems and solutions which I find extremely valuable.
My reading materials are quite varied; I'm on the editorial board of Public Finance and read most of the accounting/financial press. I get four newspapers every day: the Financial Times, the Guardian, the Telegraph, and the Daily Mail. I also like sector-specific magazines such as Health Service journal.
My out of hours reading material consists mostly of military histories. For many years I've been fascinated with myths that arise from why particular battles are won or lost. I especially enjoy Max Hastings books. Another thing that helps me relax is watching Manchester United. I've been a fan for 47 years!
As part of this series we’re looking to cover as many different job roles in the accounting sector as possible, in both the U.S. and the UK. If you know someone who would be interested in participating in upcoming features in the series, please e-mail us at [email protected].