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WWL Ranking: Global Elite Thought Leader

WWL says

Ben Johnson is among the top practitioners globally, with numerous international sources recommending him for his first-class expertise in fraud and bribery investigations and asset tracing.

Questions & Answers

Ben Johnson is a managing director in the global investigations and strategic intelligence practice, based in London, and leads the forensic investigation team in EMEA. He is a forensic accountant with 20 years’ experience in the field, focusing on fraud, accounting malpractice, and anti-bribery and corruption issues. In the course of his career Ben has worked on some of the largest and most complex investigations and disputes globally.

What attracted you to a career in forensic accounting?

My first real job was as an admin assistant on the Volker Commission investigation in the late 1990s, into potential assets of Holocaust victims still held by the Swiss banks. It was a fascinating case, and obviously very important work with a major impact on the lives of thousands of families. I realised that, despite having been previously determined against becoming an accountant, a career in forensic accounting could provide intellectually challenging work, as well as make a real impact for clients and other stakeholders.

How has the market changed since you first started practising?

I focus on financial investigations and the market has changed significantly in a number of areas. The biggest change has been the increasing pace of the development of the information age and the rise of big data. When I started, most evidence on investigations was in the form of hard copy documents and OCR technology was in its infancy and often ineffective. Back then, it was key to have the ability to flick through folders of documents and pick out the important documents quickly. Now, of course, everything is digitised, which has had a major impact on how investigations are run.

How has your previous experience of working for the Financial Reporting Council (FRC) affected your approach to your work in private practice?

Investigating a host of enforcement cases over the years for accounting regulators has given me a good insight into the means by which businesses manipulate accounts to inflate the appearance of their performance, and the factors driving such behaviour.

This experience is invaluable when investigating potential accounting irregularities for corporate clients. Increasingly, my team and I are also using this insight to assist clients in the fund industry who are thinking of investing, long or short, in companies where inappropriate accounting may be an issue. With the rise of the phenomenon of short-sellers self-publishing research on companies they accuse of accounting manipulation, this is an area that I expect to continue to keep us busy.

You have highlighted to us an uptick in outsourcing-related disputes. What would you say is driving this development?

The outsourcing industry has been in the spotlight of regulators recently with several high-profile corporate failures and accounting scandals such as Carillion, Interserve and Mitie.

One factor behind the issues for the industry is the complexity of accounting for the major long-term contracts typically involved. Large and complex contracts can lead to subjectivity and scope for management judgement in the allocation of revenues and costs, which in turn can result in businesses taking more revenue and profit than is appropriate at an early stage in contracts. This stores up problems for the future. The recent introduction of IFRS 15 has sought to reduce the scope for judgement in this area, but I expect it to continue to be an issue for some time yet.

The FRC is set to be replaced by another audit regulator – how might this change affect your practice over the next couple of years?

The enforcement division of the FRC has increased its resources markedly over the past few years, and I expect that this emphasis on enforcement will be maintained by the new regulatory body, the Auditing, Reporting and Governance Authority (AGRA). I think there will continue to be a focus on audit quality and sanctioning of firms where there have been failings in high-profile cases. There are several ongoing reviews into the audit market, and it will be interesting to see how the landscape develops over the next five years. I expect that if joint auditors become mandatory the interplay between the audit teams will be an area of regulatory focus.

Practitioners have noted that evidence is more frequently coming from less traditional sources, such as instant messaging and mobile phones. Is the proliferation of data and evidence making it easier to build a case?

The proliferation of data has its plusses and minuses for investigators.

On the plus side, it can be easier to find the proverbial needle in the haystack. AI has come in leaps and bounds recently and can drastically reduce the amount of non-relevant material that humans need to sift through. Also, new forms of communication such as IMS and WhatsApp can provide valuable new sources of evidence provided the data privacy challenges can be navigated.

However, the sheer volume of data, which is exponentially increasing every year, is a real challenge to an efficient investigation and can lead to significantly greater costs and resources if it is not well managed. A good investigation will consider the data landscape and challenges at the outset to ensure all appropriate sources of evidence are used efficiently.

How do you see your practice developing over the next five years?

The trend towards e-discovery services and data analytics to be integral components of investigations will continue. The days of separate teams for these services from accountants and lawyers are numbered.

I also expect the focus on accounting malpractice and audit to continue – which, coupled with the growth in litigation financing, may lead to a more active audit negligence space.

What advice would you give to younger forensic experts hoping to be in your position one day?

I would advise anyone starting out in forensics to gain as much experience of different commercial situations as they can. Understanding how finance teams function and the different pressures they face is a key component in a thorough investigation or expert report.

WWL says

Benjamin Johnson has an impressive practice which sees him regularly called upon to lead investigations into accounting irregularities and corruption matters across a wide range of industries and sectors.

Questions & Answers

Ben Johnson is a managing director in the global investigations and strategic intelligence practice, based in London, and leads the forensic investigation team in EMEA. He is a forensic accountant with 20 years’ experience in the field, focusing on fraud, accounting malpractice, and anti-bribery and corruption issues. In the course of his career Ben has worked on some of the largest and most complex investigations and disputes globally.

What attracted you to a career in forensic accounting?

My first real job was as an admin assistant on the Volker Commission investigation in the late 1990s, into potential assets of Holocaust victims still held by the Swiss banks. It was a fascinating case and obviously very important work with a major impact on the lives of thousands of families. I realised that, despite having been previously determined against becoming an accountant, a career in forensic accounting could provide intellectually challenging work and make a real impact for clients and other stakeholders.

How has the market changed since you first started practising?

I focus on financial investigations, and the market has changed significantly in a number of areas. The biggest change has been the increasing pace of the development of the information age and the rise of big data. When I started, most evidence on investigations was in the form of hard-copy documents; OCR technology was in its infancy and often ineffective. Back then, it was key to have the ability to flick through folders of documents and pick out the important documents quickly. Now of course everything is digitised, which has had a major impact on how investigations are run.

How has your previous experience of working for the Financial Reporting Council (FRC) affected your approach to your work in private practice?

Investigating a host of enforcement cases over the years for accounting regulators has given me a good insight into the means by which businesses manipulate accounts to inflate the appearance of their performance and the factors driving such behaviour. 

This experience is invaluable when investigating potential accounting irregularities for corporate clients. Increasingly, my team and I are also using this insight to assist clients in the fund industry who are thinking of investing, long or short, in companies where inappropriate accounting may be an issue. With the rise of the phenomenon of short-sellers self-publishing research on companies they accuse of accounting manipulation, this is an area that I expect to continue to keep us busy.

You have highlighted an uptick in outsourcing-related disputes. What would you say is driving this development?

The outsourcing industry has been in the spotlight of regulators recently, with several high-profile corporate failures and accounting scandals, such as Carillion, Interserve and Mitie

One factor behind the issues for the industry is the complexity of accounting for the major long-term contracts typically involved. Large and complex contracts can lead to subjectivity and scope for management judgment in the allocation of revenues and costs, which in turn can result in businesses taking more revenue and profit than appropriate at an early stage in contracts. This stores up problems for the future. The recent introduction of IFRS 15 has sought to reduce the scope for judgement in this area, but I expect it to remain an issue for some time yet.

The FRC is set to be replaced by another audit regulator – how might this change affect your practice over the next couple of years?

The enforcement division of the FRC has increased its resources markedly over the past few years, and I expect that this emphasis on enforcement will be maintained by the new regulatory body, the Auditing, Reporting and Governance Authority. I think there will continue to be a focus on audit quality and sanctioning of firms where there have been failings in high-profile cases. There are several ongoing reviews into the audit market, and it will be interesting to see how the landscape develops over the next five years. I expect that if joint auditors become mandatory, the interplay between the audit teams will be an area of regulatory focus. 

Practitioners have noted that evidence is more frequently coming from less traditional sources, such as instant messaging and mobile phones. Is the proliferation of data and evidence making it easier to build a case?

The proliferation of data has its plusses and minuses for investigators. On the plus side, it can be easier to find the proverbial needle in the haystack. Artificial intelligence has come in leaps and bounds recently, and can drastically reduce the amount of non-relevant material that humans need to sift through. Also, new forms of communication such as IMS and WhatsApp can provide valuable new sources of evidence, provided the data privacy challenges can be navigated.

However, the sheer volume of data, which is exponentially increasing every year, is a real challenge to an efficient investigation and can lead to significantly greater costs and resources if it is not well managed. A good investigation will consider the data landscape and challenges at the outset to ensure all appropriate sources of evidence are used efficiently.

How do you see your practice developing over the next five years?

The trend for e-discovery services and data analytics to be integral components of investigations will continue. The days of separate teams for these services from accountants and lawyers are numbered. I also expect the focus on accounting malpractice and audit to continue; coupled with the growth in litigation financing, this may lead to a more active audit negligence space.

What advice would you give to younger forensic experts hoping to be in your position one day?

I would advise anyone starting out in forensics to gain as much experience of different commercial situations as they can. Understanding how finance teams function and the different pressures they face is a key component in a thorough investigation or expert report.

Global Leader

Asset Recovery - Experts 2020

Professional Biography

WWL Ranking: Recommended

WWL says

Ben Johnson receives resounding endorsements for his extensive know-how regarding fraud and financial investigations, asset tracing and litigation proceedings.

Biography

Ben Johnson is a managing director in the global investigations and strategic intelligence practice based in London and leads the forensic investigation team in EMEA. He is a forensic accountant with 20 years’ experience in the field, focusing on fraud, accounting malpractice and anti-bribery and corruption issues. Over the course of his career, he has worked on some of the largest and most complex investigations and disputes globally. Ben has extensive experience in acting for regulators and enforcement agencies which enables him to provide valuable insight to private sector clients facing regulatory oversight.

Ben has led multiple investigations on behalf of accountancy regulators into major accounting scandals in the UK and other jurisdictions. He also led a team of forensic investigators assisting the Attorney General’s Office and police of a Southern European country investigating potential crimes in the country’s banking sector.

In addition to his investigations experience, Ben has authored expert reports on issues relating to fraud, corruption and misapplication of accounting standards in court proceedings, regulatory proceedings and international arbitration and has provided oral expert testimony regarding global anti-bribery and corruption standards. He is also experienced in advising companies on their compliance processes, in particular anti-bribery and corruption measures, anti-fraud procedures including procurement and sanctions compliance procedures. 

He has experience across a range of industry sectors, in particular: financial services, energy, software, IT&T, support services, construction and engineering, and retail.

He is the deputy chairman and an executive board member of The Academy of Experts, the leading body for the promotion of standards for expert witnesses.

WWL Ranking: Recommended

WWL says

Ben Johnson is a premier figure in the market for fraud and financial issues including investigations and irregularities and misconduct claims.

Biography

Ben Johnson is a managing director in the global investigations and strategic intelligence practice based in London, and leads the forensic investigation team in EMEA. He is a forensic accountant with 20 years’ experience in the field, focusing on fraud, accounting malpractice and anti-bribery and corruption issues. In the course of his career Ben has worked on some of the largest and most complex investigations and disputes globally. Ben has extensive experience in acting for regulators and enforcement agencies which enables him to provide valuable insight to private sector clients facing regulatory oversight.

Ben has led multiple investigations on behalf of accountancy regulators into major accounting scandals in the UK and other jurisdictions. He also led a team of forensic investigators assisting the attorney general’s office and the police of a Southern European country investigating potential crimes in the country’s banking sector.

In addition to his investigations experience, Ben has authored expert reports on issues relating to fraud, corruption and misapplication of accounting standards in court proceedings, regulatory proceedings and international arbitration; and he has provided oral expert testimony regarding global anti-bribery and corruption standards. He is also experienced in advising companies on their compliance processes, in particular anti-bribery and corruption measures, anti-fraud procedures including procurement and sanctions compliance procedures.

He has experience across a range of industry sectors, in particular: financial services; energy; software; IT and telecoms; support services; construction and engineering; and retail.

He is the deputy chairman and an executive board member of the Academy of Experts, the leading body for the promotion of standards for expert witnesses.

WWL Ranking: Recommended

WWL says

Ben Johnson is widely regarded as a leading forensic accountant, with deep experience providing expert evidence in contentious proceedings.

Biography

Ben Johnson is a managing director in the global investigations and strategic intelligence practice based in London, and leads the forensic investigation team in EMEA. He is a forensic accountant with 20 years’ experience in the field, focusing on fraud, accounting malpractice and anti-bribery and corruption issues. In the course of his career Ben has worked on some of the largest and most complex investigations and disputes globally. Ben has extensive experience in acting for regulators and enforcement agencies which enables him to provide valuable insight to private sector clients facing regulatory oversight.

Ben has led multiple investigations on behalf of accountancy regulators into major accounting scandals in the UK and other jurisdictions. He also led a team of forensic investigators assisting the attorney general’s office and the police of a Southern European country investigating potential crimes in the country’s banking sector.

In addition to his investigations experience, Ben has authored expert reports on issues relating to fraud, corruption and misapplication of accounting standards in court proceedings, regulatory proceedings and international arbitration; and he has provided oral expert testimony regarding global anti-bribery and corruption standards. He is also experienced in advising companies on their compliance processes, in particular anti-bribery and corruption measures, anti-fraud procedures including procurement and sanctions compliance procedures.

He has experience across a range of industry sectors, in particular: financial services; energy; software; IT and telecoms; support services; construction and engineering; and retail.

He is the deputy chairman and an executive board member of the Academy of Experts, the leading body for the promotion of standards for expert witnesses.

WWL Ranking: Recommended

WWL says

Benjamin Johnson has an impressive practice which sees him regularly called upon to lead investigations into accounting irregularities and corruption matters across a wide range of industries and sectors.

Biography

Ben Johnson is a forensic accountant and managing director in BRG’s global investigations and strategic intelligence practice, based in London. He has over 18 years of experience in the field of forensic accounting, including fraud and financial investigations as well as litigation and arbitration. His extensive experience in acting for regulators and enforcement agencies enables him to provide valuable insight to private-sector clients facing regulatory oversight.

Mr Johnson has led many investigations and reviews into suspected accounting irregularities, fraud, bribery and corruption issues and misconduct on behalf of regulators and private clients in both civil and criminal proceedings in jurisdictions throughout the world. In recent years, he has led more than eight investigations on behalf of accountancy regulators into major accounting scandals. He is currently leading a team assisting the Attorney General’s office of a southern European country investigating potential crimes in the banking sector.

Mr Johnson has substantial experience of FCPA and UK Bribery Act investigations and has led anti-bribery and corruption-specific due diligence assignments on behalf of private equity clients in the context of high-risk transactions. He also has significant fund-tracing experience, having acted in several multi-jurisdictional matters involving US and European regulators and the tracing of billions of dollars in proprietary funds.

Mr Johnson has experience across a range of industry sectors and has assisted clients on the ground in countries around the world, including Australia, Botswana, China, Cyprus, Gibraltar, Hong Kong, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Republic of Ireland, Switzerland and the United States.

Mr Johnson is a fellow of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA), and a council member and the treasurer of The Academy of Experts (TAE).

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