Fraud prevention, technology and the future of financial forensics

Canadian CPA Graham Quast won an exclusive award for his work fighting financial fraud. In the Q&A, learn about this specialty practice area and the impact technology could have on the future of risk management.

At last month’s AICPA Forensic and Valuation Services Conference in Las Vegas, 20 young accountants who work in financial forensics received the Standing Ovation Award for their considerable contributions to this specialty practice area.

The Standing Ovation Awards recognize a range of outstanding contributions by forensic accountants who demonstrate best practices and serve the greater good for businesses, peers and communities. This includes important professional activities, such as expanding valuation services within a firm, chairing boards, serving as expert witnesses, conducting outreach with universities, mentoring colleagues and more.

One of this year’s Standing Ovation Award winners was Canadian CPA, Graham Quast. Graham is the Senior Manager of Valuation, Forensics and Litigation Support at MNP. In his role, he manages investigations for many different kinds of financial fraud, theft and disputes in the workplace. We interviewed him about his practice, the award and the value of a post-CPA specialty credential.

Congratulations on your recent award. Could you highlight a recent project you’ve worked on that was recognized at the conference?

Thank you! One of my team’s case files was the subject of a session at the conference. This matter involved a trusted employee diverting over $2 million to their personal benefit. The transactions were executed entirely online and disguised as payments to existing and valid vendors. The investigation was complicated by the use of cloud-based accounting systems and online payment facilitation companies. This required a very careful approach to preserving and obtaining the records of the business.

What type of clients do you serve in your role at MNP – and do you see your advice, solutions and investigations serving broad communities?

One of the reasons I love my work is that I can never predict the nature of our next client or our next project. I serve a large range of clients, including various levels of government, post-secondary institutions, professional bodies, public companies, not-for-profits and private enterprises. Much of what I do is litigation support which means I am, more often than not, working with legal counsel to some degree.

How has your approach to navigating issues in fraud and risk management changed since the rise of disruptive technological change, like blockchain and big data?

MNP’s practice hasn’t experienced significant change in this area, as our work is often reactive and our clients haven’t implemented these technologies yet. As more businesses adopt this technology, the risk landscape will change and it will alter the format of information, its retrieval and how investigations are carried out.

Fraudsters look for the path of least resistance to minimize their perceived chance of detection. If these technologies alter those perceptions, fraudsters will adapt. There have already been claims that blockchain technology and big data analysis will eliminate fraud. The methods of fraud may shift, but I don’t expect these technologies to greatly reduce fraud overall.

As a specialist who works in a complex global economy where trust and expertise are so critical, how important has the Certified in Financial Forensics credential been to your career?

The clients I work with are often in crisis. You cannot overestimate the value of a credential that immediately communicates to a person or business in need that a professional has the right skills and experience to help them through a difficult time. In this sense, the CFF is extremely valuable because it serves as a statement that I’ve invested time and resources to obtain specialized skills in financial forensics.

Where do you think the future of financial forensics is going? How can specialized CPAs, like CFF holders, help lead the way?

I believe the future of financial forensics will be more and more intertwined with technology, powerful analytics and cyber security. To lead in this area, we need to be among the first to understand the risks and opportunities this presents. As CPAs, we should be positioning ourselves to advise clients on the appropriate balance between adopting technologies to drive their business forward and protecting that which they’ve already built.

In addition to Graham, another fellow Canadian CPA was also recognized at the same AICPA event. Anna Maria Cicirello won the Forensic and Litigation Services Volunteer of the Year Award for her instrumental work to help develop the CFF credential examination for professional accountants in Canada.

Congratulations to Anna and to Graham on their wins, and for representing CPA Canada with excellence and integrity on the world stage.