David trained and qualified as a chartered accountant with KPMG, starting his career in auditing but transferring to the far more exciting world of recovery just in time for the recession of the late 1980s. David took his first insolvency appointment in 1995, having moved to a boutique insolvency firm, before moving to Chantrey Vellacott in 1999 where he remained for almost 10 years. David joined Grant Thornton in 2008 to head up their proceeds of crime team, and continues to act in fraud-based insolvencies.
WHAT MOTIVATED YOU TO SPECIALISE IN ASSET RECOVERY AND INSOLVENCY?
I wish I could say it was a conscious decision to specialise in this field. The reality is that I took on several cases where fraud had resulted in the failure of the companies. Rather than bury the cases, I investigated the frauds and recovered assets for the victims, and found that I rather liked the work. Before long I had developed a reputation for having an appetite for cases involving fraud and the need to trace and recover assets, so my area of specialisation was more through chance than design.
HOW HAS THE AREA OF CONTENTIOUS INSOLVENCY CHANGED SINCE YOU FIRST STARTED PRACTISING?
When I first started working in this area there was only a small handful of professionals who understood contentious insolvency. After-the-event insurance was virtually unknown, as was funding. Nowadays there is a far greater understanding of what I do and what is needed to be done. The law is more settled in various areas, albeit not always favourably. Contentious insolvency is far more mature than when I started out but still has the ability to develop.
WHAT CASES MOST STICK IN YOUR MIND AND WHY?
There are many cases that stick in my mind for numerous reasons, and many that I am unable to discuss in any detail as I am obliged to maintain confidentiality. Clearly, the case that caused my arrest and detainment in the Middle East for four months is truly memorable. That said, there are several cases involving members of the public who have lost money in boiler-room frauds. Speaking to these victims brings home the reality of fraud and how it impacts upon peoples’ lives, and why the job I do is important.
WHAT SKILLS ARE NEEDED TO SUCCESSFULLY COLLABORATE WITH LAWYERS, AGENTS AND COLLEAGUES ACROSS THE GLOBE?
It is important to pick the right team for each assignment; different lawyers and agents might be more or less appropriate in certain situations than others. The skill is to recognise what attributes are required for each assignment, which comes from well-established relationships with those lawyers and agents. A further skill is to recognise the extent of everyone’s expertise, including my own. The role is akin to the circus plate-spinner, trying to ensure that nothing crashes to the ground.
YOUR PRACTICE REGULARLY INVOLVES WORKING ON CASES COMING OUT OF CHINA. HOW DID THIS FOCUS COME ABOUT?
Again, this is through chance rather than design. I happened to be in the right place at the right time to be instructed on a series of cases that involved frauds targeting individuals in China and the Far East. I am fortunate in having access to a global firm that has supported me in these cases, as well as a great team in London, including some Chinese speakers. I have developed some great contacts in both London and China, who have supported this area of work.
SOURCES HAVE NOTED INCREASED LEVELS OF FRAUD AFTER THE GOVERNMENT MADE CHANGES TO UK PENSION REGULATION. WHY DO YOU THINK THIS TREND IS OCCURRING?
The frauds that target pension pots, “pension liberation”, are typically Ponzi schemes or boiler-room frauds. The fraudsters target individuals who have monies tied up in pension schemes, with the promise of significantly greater returns than they are currently achieving with little or no risk. While interest rates continue to be low, anyone with a pension pot might struggle to achieve a reasonable rate of return on their savings and might be persuaded to invest in a scheme that proves to be a fraud. The legitimate pension companies are unable to refuse an individual from transferring his or her pension (subject to the transfer target meeting various requirements), so are hampered from protecting the interests of their investors. That said, I have spoken to a number of pension companies who have on occasions refused to effect transfers where it is clear that the monies will go into a fraudulent scheme without appeals against their refusal. Regrettably, I do not see pension liberation reducing until regulation is introduced to prevent such transfers.
HOW DO YOU SEE YOUR PRACTICE DEVELOPING OVER THE NEXT FIVE YEARS?
I anticipate a greater focus on corruption and the ensuing tracing and recovery of assets resulting from corruption. I also think that while there is an increasing body of professionals who specialise in fraud and asset tracing, there is a greater increase in individuals who wish to protect their ill-gotten gains. There will be no shortage of work in this area.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO YOUNGER PRACTITIONERS HOPING TO ONE DAY BE IN YOUR POSITION?
In the first instance, get a good understanding of law, accountancy, insolvency and forensic techniques. Work or train in an environment where you can understand how a business should run – my audit and accounting training has helped me enormously. Try to have an enquiring mind and don’t be afraid to speak up if there’s something that you do not understand, or something that doesn’t look right. There have been many instances where a small detail picked up by a relatively junior member of the team has unlocked a fraud.