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Thought Leaders

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Thought Leader

WWL Ranking: Global Elite Thought Leader

WWL says

Nick Wood is “extremely creative and commercially innovative” according to sources, one of whom effuses: “He has enormous experience and understands the interplay of fraud and insolvency in asset recovery work.”

Questions & Answers

Nick specialises in UK and international insolvency, asset tracing and recovery. He has over 25 years’ experience in tracing and recovering assets from jurisdictions including the Caribbean, the Far East and EMEA (the main financial centres), as well as Russia and the CIS regions. Recently he has been involved in assignments acting for state and commercial banks on their non-performing loan portfolios in India, Africa and the Middle East. Nick has particular expertise in de-risking the recovery exercise for clients using various funding and insurance products.

Describe your career to date.

I graduated in law. My first job was in audit before moving on to insolvency and then specialising in fraud and asset recovery. I have been involved in a wide variety of cases, from being liquidator of an Antiguan offshore bank to being trustee of the Boris Berezovsky estate.

What motivated you to specialise in asset recovery and insolvency?

I like the enforcement and asset recovery side of insolvency, as you are inevitably going after the bad guys. The challenge is to formulate a strategy that will force them to come to the table. The powers of an insolvency practitioner are incredibly powerful to cut through some of the asset protection structures put in place. We have been pioneers of many of these asset recovery tools.

How has the market changed since you first started practising?

There are fewer assets in an insolvent company these days to enable funding to pursue fraudulent and antecedent transactions. Therefore, you need to be alive to the various funding and de-risking structures available, to enable you to pursue claims and maximise returns to creditors. 

What are the main challenges and risks when recovering assets for clients? 

One of the main challenges is the lack of funding and litigation fatigue. Frequently clients approach us when they have spent years, and millions of pounds, obtaining a judgment but have run out of money and the motivation to enforce it. Our job is to reinvigorate the claim, obtain funding and de-risk it for the client. The strategy is to find a quick and efficient route to the money, cutting through the opaque offshore asset protection structures that the defendant has put in place. It is important to have the right lawyers on the case who are experienced in asset recovery, as well as experienced in the local jurisdiction. Having the right team on the case is vital.

How do you prepare for your role as a court-appointed receiver? What are the most important skills required?

The key is to emphasise to the client that, as a court-appointed receiver, I am an independent officer of the court and answerable to the court once I am appointed. Therefore, it is essential to establish my powers and responsibilities from the outset and ensure these are enshrined in the court order. It is important to be open and transparent at all times. It is a very underused but powerful tool and can be adapted to a wide variety of situations.

What makes Grant Thornton stand out from its competitors in the market?

We are the only truly global network with the specific skills and expertise to undertake major asset recovery in multiple jurisdictions, particularly in the offshore financial centres. We don’t just find the assets, we work closely with the client and the lawyers to put together an efficient and effective recovery strategy. We also work closely with our forensic investigation and digital forensic colleagues to trace and recover the assets.

Looking back over your career, what is the most interesting case you have been a part of?

I have a plethora of stories to tell! They are all interesting cases in their own way – whether it is the characters involved, the vagaries of the different jurisdictions or the strategy that we employed with the lawyers. We had one fraudster who came hobbling in on crutches for an interview. Half-way through he got up to go to the washroom and walked normally out of the door before realising he had forgotten his crutches, which caused some amusement!

You have enjoyed a very distinguished career so far. What would you like to achieve that you have not yet accomplished?

Enforcement of non-performing loans for banks in emerging markets is a very exciting opportunity in the market. We are working hard to assist these banks with their recovery strategies and return funds to shore up their balance sheets.

WWL says

Nick Wood is held in high esteem for his impressive work on cross-border asset tracing, recovery and insolvency proceedings.

Questions & Answers

Nick specialises in UK and international insolvency, asset tracing and recovery. He has 30 years’ experience in tracing and recovering assets from many jurisdictions including the Caribbean; the Far East and EMEA; the main offshore financial centres; Russia; and the CIS. He has recently been involved in assignments acting for state and commercial banks on their non-performing loan portfolios in India, Africa and the Middle East. Nick has particular expertise in de-risking the recovery exercise for the client using various funding and insurance products. He has been appointed receiver by the courts of several common law jurisdictions.

What did you find challenging about entering the asset recovery market?

The asset recovery market is very specialist. You need to have a laser focus on the end goal. Funds can be transferred between accounts in many different jurisdictions within seconds. Asset protection structures put in place by fraudsters are becoming increasingly complex and sophisticated. There are a number of enablers who have set up shop in offshore jurisdictions, and who will supply nominee directors and advise on layering and setting up opaque offshore structures and trusts. The challenge is to stay one step ahead and have a constantly evolving strategy. 

What qualities make for an effective asset recovery expert? 

Teamwork is essential in achieving a successful recovery. Knowing the right people in the right jurisdictions who have the necessary knowledge and expertise. Understanding cultural differences in the relevant jurisdictions and how the local laws operate is essential. 

How are you handling key steps of the investigations process in the covid-19 lockdown environment? 

There are different challenges in different jurisdictions. The use of digital communications and the acceptance of new ways of communicating has advanced enormously over the lockdown period. Understanding how the court systems are adapting in different jurisdictions is very important. Evidence-gathering, particularly from banks, has continued pretty much as normal – albeit time scales have become stretched. Some of the other investigation tools are more difficult to navigate during lockdown.

Asset recovery has become increasingly international owing to globalisation. How have you adapted your practice to meet this challenge?

We have a network of offshore and onshore offices that focus on asset recovery work. They are well connected, and understand the local jurisdiction and how to get things done. We keep in regular contact and strategise cases on group calls. Asset-tracing techniques are constantly evolving and new methods of accessing information are becoming available. 

What are the main challenges currently facing experts working in the investigations and asset recovery space?

The larger asset recovery assignments tend to have a political or regulatory element, and it can be challenging negotiating your way around these issues while at the same time formulating an asset recovery strategy. Often claimants want to be de-risked from the asset recovery strategy, and you need to implement innovative funding and insurance packages.

How is technology currently revolutionising the nature of asset recovery?

The use of artificial intelligence is becoming increasingly important in assessing the huge volumes of data that can be accumulated in an investigation in a cost-effective and efficient manner. Some of the corporate intelligence evidence-gathering techniques are becoming increasingly sophisticated. 

What advice would you give to younger experts looking to specialise in asset recovery proceedings? 

This is a very exciting and rewarding area. Removing the ill-gotten gains from the fraudsters is very satisfying. There will be many bumps in the road along the way; however, don’t be put off by setbacks. 

What is the best piece of career advice you have received?

You need to be constantly innovating and changing to stay head of the game. Ensure you enjoy what you are doing and celebrate success. 

Global Leader

Asset Recovery - Experts 2020

Professional Biography

WWL Ranking: Global Elite Thought Leader

WWL says

Nick Wood is held in high esteem for his impressive work on cross-border asset tracing, recovery and insolvency proceedings.

Biography

Nick Wood is a partner in the insolvency and asset recovery team at Grant Thornton and has over 30 years' experience in tracing and recovering hidden assets from many jurisdictions including the Middle East; the Far East; Africa; Spain and other European countries; Russia; the CIS region; and the USA, using civil and insolvency procedures.

The insolvency and asset recovery team has recovered over £3 billion of hidden and/or misappropriated assets over the past eight years from over 65 jurisdictions. 

Nick has been instrumental in setting up a specialist enforcement fund, available for high-value asset recovery and enforcement claims where Grant Thornton is the mandated recovery agent. This is non-recourse funding for enforcement and related litigation, in return for a percentage of recoveries. The fund is flexible and there is appetite to buy Non-Performing Loans and other forms of distressed debt, judgments and arbitration awards, depending on the clients’ requirements. 

Nick has been appointed receiver by the courts of the UK, Antigua, Bermuda, BVI, Cayman, Nevis, Jersey and Delaware. 

Examples of successful cases include acting as liquidator of an Antiguan offshore bank in relation to a $150 million fraud; administrator of a $160 million turnover commodity trader in West Africa in relation to a $20 million fraud; trustee for John “Goldfinger” Palmer (no. 105 on the Sunday Times Rich List); trustee for Boris Berezovsky, the billionaire Russian oligarch; and provisional liquidator of a $3 billion Russian financial services company; liquidator of an aircraft leasing group in Bermuda, Guernsey and Ireland, where he recovered over $500 million.

Nick is a licensed insolvency practitioner (LLB, FIPA, FABRP, JIEB).
WWL Ranking: Recommended
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