- Hi, I am Ivan Skula. I work as a Principal Consultant for Fraud and Financial Crimes for SAS (a company that develops and sells its own suite of analytics software solutions and has become global analytics and AI provider).
- I’m based in Dubai, but my work allows me to travel around the whole GCC region (the member countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council) and occasionally even beyond!
- I belong to the Professional Services Department, which encapsulates the consulting and, more specifically, the Fraud and Security Intelligence practice.
- I pursued a CFE certification in 2019, after almost 10 years working in the fraud domain.
- Here are a few ideas on how you can build a successful career in Forensic and Fraud Investigation from scratch.
A successful career transition to the ‘Fraud’ domain
My journey of becoming a fraud consultant started many years ago – in 2010. At that time, I worked for SAS in Slovakia (a small country in the heart of Europe and also my home country).
SAS, as an analytics behemoth, was very well positioned in the risk domain, especially in Banking and Financial Services vertical. However, we were getting more and more questions from our customers related to the fraud domain and how SAS could help them in this area!
Since I already had an exposure to risk domain in banking (I was involved in a Basel II directive project with a local bank), my manager offered me a chance to focus on ‘fraud and financial crimes’ domain along with data quality as a sub-domain.
And it was then that I started my amazing journey in Fraud and Forensics! Whew! That was an astounding transition and experience!
My primary responsibility was to successfully deliver fraud detection and prevention projects of our customers across industries (Banking, Insurance, Government, etc).
On top of delivery, I also served as an ‘advisor’ to our customers before, during, or after the project delivery, where we share market trends combined with our best practices and experiences based on past projects and current market situation.
Fast forward, in 2013, I was offered a chance to use my experience in the UAE and so I moved with my family to Dubai!
Since then, I have had an opportunity to deliver multiple projects in different countries of the region, ranging from small to enterprise-wide real-time fraud detection projects bearing a SAS flag.
Questions I get asked most often.
“How to start a career in Fraud and Forensics from scratch?”
Most of the big companies, regardless of the industry, have people dedicated to managing the risk of fraud. So, whether it is a bank, an insurance company, or even a government entity, there is a chance to work as a fraud manager or investigator.
In my opinion, you can start a career in Fraud and Forensic by:
1. Engaging with your in-house Fraud and Forensic Team
- Usually, the easiest way to get more information and hands-on exposure is ‘when there is already a unit or department within your organization that manages fraud risk’ (could be part of an internal audit or even a separate unit)!
- If your current designation allows it, you could engage with them (formally or even informally) and get a much closer understanding of how they are tackling different risks at the moment, what tools they use, what techniques they are leveraging, what data they are using, what fraud scenarios they might be covering, etc.
- You can also discuss the potential high-risk areas related to fraud in your department and jointly check current measures deployed in spotting them.
The risk of fraud always pervades across the whole organization, and therefore there should be some level of interaction between the fraud risk department and the other departments of the organization.
Find a good way to complement your current knowledge by attending some classes and training. These I would divide into two groups:
- Domain related training – you can focus on getting familiar with types of fraud commonly occurring in the respective domain (finance and accounting) and particular industry. In addition, you can attend classes specifically addressing issues of fraud in your domain. The most comprehensive approach would be to do a Certification related to Fraud and Forensics (e.g. forensic accounting, CFE, etc.). Certification usually also provides very good materials and resources for further study.
- Technical or technology training – I would recommend tapping into areas like – how fraud can be detected, what techniques are being used by the current market, how to use today’s technology to identify fraud in your domain/organization. Training in tools like Excel and languages like SAS, Python, Matlab, SQL, R, etc. will help you proceed further.
- Training related to ‘data management and data visualization’ might come very handy as well, though this can be used beyond the fraud detection realm, which makes it even more versatile skill.
3. Exploratory Analysis
- One option, which might not be available to all though, is to perform something that we call – an exploratory analysis.
- It means looking at the data from different angles and reconciling them against each other.
- By doing this, we are trying to spot the anomalies or suspicious patterns that might indicate fraud. But again, proceed with this exercise only if your current designation allows for such analysis or you have approval from your manager.
- Make sure you know how to work with the data to extract the insights. This would fall under the technical knowledge.
“When and why you pursued CFE?”
I pursued a CFE certification in 2019, after almost 10 years working in the fraud domain. There were two main reasons why I was interested in this certification:
- The fact that it is a globally recognized certification for fraud domain experts acknowledging their long-lasting interest in fraud domain space(through continuous education) and
- To expand my view on the fraud to better understand our customers
After going through the preparation course and passing the certification tests I have to say that though it wasn’t easy, it was definitely worth it and has fulfilled my expectation above and beyond.
Both, the prep course as well as the certification test allowed me to assess my own knowledge and understanding of the fraud domain. It widened my view on fraud, especially on areas like investigation process and techniques, corporate governance, code of ethics, laws related to fraud – areas I wasn’t much aware of nor interested in before.
CFE provides an invaluable resource for a structured approach to learning about a variety of fraud-related topics. It exposes a substantial amount of up to date information, fraud trends, the experience of others through blogs and discussion as well as the possibility to attend a wide range of training and conferences on different topics.
Though I did my CFE only after working so many years in the fraud domain, I would encourage anyone professionally interested in fraud to pursue the certification even without many years of experience.
It will lay down the foundation on which you can grow based on your own area of interest and priorities, providing a lot of study material and opportunities to meet and discuss your own views and eventually grow to the position you‘d like to see yourself in, in the future.
“Should finance professionals take ‘technology training’ to become a Fraud Examiner and Investigator?”
From my own experience, I have noticed many financial professionals focusing on domain-related training and certifications. However, I would strongly encourage them to look into ‘the technical’ training as well.
The first big advantage of a finance professional having technical training is the fact that they usually don’t help you as one use-case (e.g. knowing MS Excel can help with many tasks you can face in your job), and second, they enable their users to understand the technology and its benefits but also limitations.
It is best to understand both legs of the business – the business domain side and also the underlying technological side.
In fact, this is often an issue in the companies we work with – On one side, there are very knowledgeable and experienced technical people (mostly in IT) who know technology A to Z, e.g., what data they have, use, store and expose to consumers, how different systems are integrated, etc.
On the other side, we have business people who understand how the business is done from the start till the end, how the processes are designed and employed (but have limited exposure or knowledge about the technology underneath)!
And then there are a few (sometimes even none) that understand both sides. So if you are a CA/ CPA and understand technology as well (not necessarily to the fullest of detail) you can serve as a bridge between the business and technology.
So, coming back to the question, I would say a big yes – it is immensely valuable when ‘business people’ have a good understanding of technology. These people are usually also a massive catalyst for the organization as they can validate the technical solution to a business problem more easily than the people who have knowledge of only IT or only business. So obviously, most companies will hire them!
To be more specific about the areas of focus, I would encourage financial professionals to look into areas like Business Intelligence, Data Visualization, Reports and dashboard building, Data exploration, and conceptually to areas like Data Management, Data Quality, Advanced analytics, and machine learning and tools like MS Excel, SAS, Tableau, Python, SQL, and RDBMS.
“Role and importance of Forensic Accounting and Financial Fraud Examiner.”
Personally speaking, a very important aspect of my job is the educational or advisory part. I have a chance not only to listen to the pains of people managing fraud risk in different companies but a chance to share my view on the risks (even maybe beyond the view of the customer at a given time) and provide a meaningful solution.
However, the obvious job role of a Forensic and Fraud Examiner is to Catch the “bad guys” who are stealing the money or valuables from companies or customers for their own benefit.
To elaborate, resources lost to fraud can (the below list is by no means exhaustive):
- Result in higher prices for the customers (e.g., fraud in insurance causes us all to pay higher premiums, fraud in banking causes us to pay more to the banks, even the simple theft in grocery shop means the overall price of all products must be a bit higher to cover for these losses)
- Threaten the stability of the companies and markets (e.g., fraud in accounting related to company market value, assets and liabilities can ultimately lead to bankruptcy, similarly in trading, fraud can cause whole market shifts and significant losses)
- Fund illegal activities (e.g., terrorism, drug trafficking, etc., one such example might be a fraud in customs where reception officer might be colluding with fraudsters to import or export military equipment or restricted products – firearms, drugs, alcohol, etc.)
- Impact people’s health or even life (e.g., fraud in healthcare or insurance has a direct impact on people’s lives; one such example might be the current situation with COVID19 virus where a lot of masks exported from China to EU were not working as claimed which could have caused a loss of life in the worst-case scenario).
If you are pondering on a career in this domain, here is what I have to say to you:
- Be courageous. Start by learning more. There are a plethora of resources online from very basic to very detailed.
- Try to engage with people in your organization who are responsible for managing fraud risk and be open about your interest.
- And last but not least – consider training and certification related to the topic to strengthen your knowledge and curriculum.
Ivan Skula is an Analytics consultant helping companies fight against fraud. Fraud is a very dynamic phenomenon, especially in the financial services domain, and became his area of interest in 2010, now more than 10 years ago!
Now It’s Your Turn…
Do you have questions on a career in Forensic and Fraud, comment below and Ivan will do his best to guide you?
Or are you already in Fraud and Forensics, share in the comments how did you start your forensic journey and what impact have you created?
(Edited by CA Uma Krishnan and image edited by Ankit Lodhi)
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