The views expressed herein are those of the author and not necessarily the views of FTI Consulting, Inc, its management, its subsidiaries, its affiliates, or its other professionals.
Dawna Wright is a senior managing director, and leads the forensic practice of FTI Consulting in Australia. A chartered accountant with more than 25 years of experience, Dawna specialises in forensic accounting and economic loss and damages. She has given expert testimony many times, in litigation and arbitration in Australia, Hong Kong and Singapore. Dawna has lived and worked in Canada, the US, France and Australia, and reads, writes and speaks fluent French.
What did you find most challenging about entering the world of forensic accountancy?
When I started out, I had been an auditor for quite a few years. The most challenging, but rewarding, aspect was the complexity of the issues and analysis. I also had to get used to the variability and unpredictability – every engagement is different and we are frequently required to change priorities at a moment’s notice.
What do you enjoy most about your role as head of the firm’s Australian forensic accounting and advisory services practice?
I love that every day is different than the one before, and it is a very broad role. Although I spend most time on client work, I also do recruiting, training, developing and mentoring, and work on generally developing the practice. I also feel like I can make a broader contribution to growing and shaping the Australian firm across all segments, working with others in our Australian leadership group, and with our marketing and HR team leaders. One aspect I have been passionate about is leading our diversity, inclusion and belonging initiative for the firm in Australia. I also love the opportunities to liaise with the amazingly talented experts from other FTI Consulting offices around the world.
Your disputes work spans both litigation and arbitration proceedings – how does your approach to each differ from the other?
In one sense, our approach is the same. The principles of forensic accounting and economic loss are the same, and we always approach a testifying expert role with the same degree of independence, objectivity and rigour, regardless of the jurisdiction or forum. In Australia, the use and role of experts is very similar in litigation and arbitration. Both make extensive use of expert conclaves, joint reports and concurrent evidence. The differences arise mostly because of the types of matters that tend to be run in each. Our arbitration matters often relate to construction, mining and resources, and cross-border disputes. Our litigation matters often relate to class actions, shareholder disputes and post-acquisition disputes.
What impact has the uptick in shareholder class actions cases in Australia had on the type of work you have been receiving recently?
We particularly enjoy these matters because they bring together all of the different types of work that we do. Because they usually relate to a financial disclosure issue, we draw on our experience with accounting and auditing standards to assess a misstatement. Our economists analyse the misstatement, and use event studies and other econometric analyses to arrive at a counterfactual share price. We then use our business valuation, data analytics and financial modelling skills to assess loss overall and per share. We have also worked with other colleagues to assist with post-settlement distributions of funds to shareholders.
You have considerable experience handling disputes across a range of sectors. To what extent is sector-specific knowledge on the part of the expert witness important?
Even from my early days as an auditor, my clients came from a broad cross-section of industries, including manufacturing, mining, financial services, health care, education, agriculture and government. This experience also helps now, as we apply our forensic skills across industry sectors. Where a matter requires more in-depth industry expertise, we work alongside other technical experts. Those technical experts may be from other segments within FTI Consulting, or external. It is always interesting to get insight into how another expert approaches an issue.
To what extent should the positive approach of the courts in Victoria towards the role of expert in disputes be adopted by other courts around the world?
Of course, every judge and every case is different. But there are several aspects of case management that I have found helpful in Victoria. The courts often take quite an active role in the process. For example, in shareholder oppression cases the court requires the parties to jointly appoint a single independent expert to value the business very early in the process. This jurisdiction also makes extensive use of expert conclaves, joint expert reports, concurrent evidence, and post-hearing instructions to jointly calculate losses. It would be a matter for each jurisdiction as to whether these initiatives would be beneficial. But from an expert’s perspective, I do think they help to narrow the issues in dispute.
Where, in your opinion, does the future of forensic accounting lie?
Two emerging themes that I think will continue to evolve are the use of data and collaboration.
We are dealing with increasingly large and complex financial models and datasets. The dispute resolution process is generally well-equipped to deal with documents, but large electronic datasets can cause logistical challenges. For example, how much data can or should be “attached” to an expert report, and in what format? The generally accepted practices are evolving.
I also think the degree of collaboration required of experts will continue to increase. As the issues are increasing in complexity and the dispute resolution process is evolving, the level of interaction with other experts is also increasing – be they opposing experts or other technical experts. In my view, if we truly accept our duty to assist the court or tribunal, despite being an adversarial process, those interactions must be done in a collaborative manner if we are to serve our clients efficiently.
What is the best piece of career advice you have received?
Just do good work for good clients, and the rest will take care of itself!
Dawna Wright is a key name in the Australian market where she is held in high esteem for her strong experience providing expert testimony in high-value disputes.
Dawna Wright is a senior managing director and leader of the Australian forensic practice of FTI Consulting. She is based in Melbourne, Australia. A chartered accountant with over 25 years' experience, Dawna began her career as an auditor and has lived and worked in Canada, the United States, France and Australia. She reads, writes and speaks fluent French.
Dawna specialises in economic loss, business valuations and forensic accounting, acting as an expert witness, a consulting expert and an independent expert determiner. Her experience includes general commercial disputes, class action litigation, shareholder disputes, post-acquisition disputes, corporate investigations and financial statement restatements.
Dawna has acted as an expert in many complex and high-profile matters. She has provided expert testimony many times, in litigation in all jurisdictions of Australia, as well as arbitrations seated in Australia, Singapore and Hong Kong. She also has extensive experience with expert conclaves, concurrent evidence and mediations, which are used widely in Australia.
Dawna's international arbitration experience is mainly related to assessing economic loss in the mining, construction, pharmaceutical and manufacturing/distribution sectors. Her litigation experience also reaches across most other sectors.
Dawna has served as a director on several not-for-profit boards, including as chair of audit and risk committees. She was the chair of the national forensic accounting committee of Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand from 2014 to 2019, and is currently a member of the global finance and audit committee for Amnesty International. She is one of a handful of business valuation specialists designated by Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand. Dawna specialises in the interpretation of complex data and financial information for non-financial clients, particularly lawyers and boards of directors. Clients value her accessibility and her hands-on approach.