Alex is a special adviser within the UK investigations and compliance team. He is one of the most experienced forensic investigators in the UK forensic market. Alex is a chartered accountant and was a partner at KPMG from 1998 to 2019. Alex leads investigations into fraud, bribery and corruption, and accounting misstatement. He led the KPMG team on the accounting investigation for BT Plc in relation to its Italy business, which resulted in a write-off of £530 million.
DESCRIBE YOUR CAREER TO DATE.
At the beginning of my career I thoroughly enjoyed four years as an external auditor. I joined an embryonic forensic team at KPMG undertaking both expert witness assignments and investigations. I still draw heavily on my external audit and expert witness experiences in what I do. I have worked on several high-profile cases: Polly Peck, Grupo Torras, the Simple Truth matter involving Jeffrey Archer, and BT. After over 20 years as a partner with the forensic unit I have recently become a client-focused special adviser with KPMG.
WHAT QUALITIES MAKE FOR A GOOD ACCOUNTANT IN FRAUD AND FINANCIAL MISCONDUCT INVESTIGATIONS?
Three things jump out: a passion for the truth; sound judgement; and excellent double-entry bookkeeping skills. The last of these may be a surprise, but in my experience only certain folk have an appetite to investigate accounting transactions and see where the trail leads them.
One element of good judgement is helping clients to navigate the grey. Some investigations do not end up with a black-or-white position and good advisers, working collaboratively with lawyers, should be able to establish a fact base that enables clients to consider future actions.
WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT WORKING IN THIS AREA?
I enjoy the hunt for the truth; and working with great colleagues and lawyers. We have great bench strength led by talented forensic partners including Roy Waligora (corporates), Paul Tombleson (financial services), Annabel Reoch (bribery and corruption) and James Maycock (energy and trading). Roy has recently returned to the UK practice after 10 years working in Africa and brings an additional dimension to what we have to offer.
YOU HAVE WORKED ON SEVERAL HIGH-PROFILE FRAUD AND ACCOUNTING MISSTATEMENT CASES. WHAT LESSONS HAVE YOU DRAWN FROM THESE TYPES OF CASES?
There can be an unhealthy focus within companies on operating profit with insufficient attention on balance sheet integrity. Culturally organisations are not good at pulling together concerns; they are too often poor at joining up the dots and seeing that an investigation is required. Even when they see that a matter requires looking at, they do not match the intervention or response to the gravity of the concern. If there is a concern over the integrity of management, there is no substitute for a well-coordinated and planned investigation.
Many companies strive for an open and positive culture but sometimes this does not extend throughout the company; too often certain subsidiaries or teams are given special status and are allowed to operate by different rules. This is often where problems occur.
WHAT HAS CHANGED OVER THE LAST 10-15 YEARS IN TERMS OF WHAT CLIENTS EXPECT FROM AN INVESTIGATOR?
Many more clients are performing investigations in-house and they require something different from their forensic providers. These areas include: forensic data analysis; experience of interviewing senior management; and SME experience (whether in trading, complex accounting or industry knowledge). Ultimately clients want someone who can report to the board or audit committee in an authoritative and independent way.
HOW DO YOU SEE YOUR PRACTICE DEVELOPING OVER THE NEXT FIVE YEARS?
Investigations will increasingly be led by those who can interrogate data and interpret the results. Forensic accountancy will continue to be an important skillset but will need supplementing by excellent data and cyber capabilities. Clients will expect a mix of new and old world skills: data analysis and clarity of reporting.
Clients will also expect advisers to have a connected approach to resolving their issues covering areas including remediation, cultural reviews and regulatory transformation. This will require a broader set of consulting disciplines brought together in a coherent and compelling way.
YOU HAVE ENJOYED A VERY DISTINGUISHED CAREER SO FAR. WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO ACHIEVE THAT YOU HAVE NOT YET ACCOMPLISHED?
I enjoy investigating potential misconduct and want to continue to encourage the next generation of investigators. My main goal is to ensure that investigators going forward are better equipped than we were.
In addition, I am interested in the psychology of the fraudster and how this can assist clients in fraud prevention. This builds on KPMG’s periodic survey of the “profile of the fraudster”. I and some colleagues are planning to undertake some further research into this area: bringing together academic research and the practical experiences of the investigator.