I'm a CFE

Marcel Simonis, CFE

Director of internal audit, Magna International, Inc.

"Fighting fraud isn't a career for individualists or opportunists," said Marcel Simonis, CFE. "Fighting fraud is a team effort that includes a lot of hard work, and involves employees with complementary skill sets who can effectively communicate, listen and share their opinions, and work collaboratively to achieve the best results for the business." Simonis, who works closely with his team as director of internal audit at Magna International Inc., says he's devoted his career to limiting opportunities to commit fraud by implementing strong internal control systems, increasing employee awareness and training, and being passionate about fraud prevention. "Fighting fraud isn't just a job — it requires commitment and passion. And it's important to remember that even a small win against fraud is still a win."

I was born and raised in a small town in the eastern part of Slovakia, formerly Czechoslovakia. I grew up near the High Tatras Mountains, so almost every weekend I was hiking, skiing or simply enjoying nature. Later, during my studies in Vancouver, Canada, I became a ski instructor and have enjoyed skiing and other outdoor activities ever since. Luckily my parents also recognized the need to learn other languages, so I spent time learning Russian, German and English.

Midway through high school I moved to Vancouver, Canada, on an exchange program. I managed to graduate after one year even though I barely spoke English. I continued my university studies in Canada until I graduated from Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario in 2000 with a Bachelor of Business Administration degree. I loved the freedom that I had in Canada and the beautiful nature of the country.

The honors co-op program at Wilfrid Laurier University offered students an opportunity to work for renowned companies following their second year of studies and PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) hired me. I signed up for a number of challenging accounting courses to help me through the work semesters. It turned out to be a valuable skill in my future career as an internal auditor.

After some time in external audit, with mostly regional audit responsibilities, I started to look for a successful international company where I could see myself growing — using my acquired professional skills — and that would fit with my international background and utilize my language skills. It took me a year until I finally found the right match — Magna International, a Canadian global automotive supplier. Since I've always been interested in cars, I couldn't resist the offer to start with the internal audit team in 2002.

Over the last 14 years with Magna I've learned how to understand the business in different regions of the world and the importance of establishing internal control systems. As the director of internal audit, my primary responsibility is to ensure effective global operations of the department. This includes developing departmental audit strategies, performing risk assessments, preparing audit plans, supporting regional operations at the execution level, and communicating and reporting the results in an efficient manner with all relevant stakeholders. I'm also responsible for coordinating special engagements and for administering the corporate whistleblower hotline.

Fighting fraud isn’t just a job — it requires commitment and passion. And it’s important to remember that even a small win against fraud is still a win."

In addition to the technical skills I've learned, like fraud auditing, target sampling, effective interviewing and fraud report writing, I've also learned to be patient, pay attention to details, listen to people and never give up on looking for the truth. It's not about convicting someone. It's about finding the truth, making people aware of what's right and what's wrong, and making the business environment healthier.

I remember a case from my time with PwC in which an employee colluded with a vendor, who'd agreed to set up a slush fund for the employee and share the profits from undelivered goods. The supervisor didn't perform his control review of goods-in transactions diligently, so he didn't note when the goods invoiced weren't delivered. Finally, during an annual control check, the person performing the verification of existence wasn't adequately trained to recognize missing items and a simple asset misappropriation scheme was developed.

Studying for the CFE credential provided me with a set of standards and frameworks that I can use to build my professional career. While it might not be too difficult to look for facts or to talk to people, it can become difficult to do it the right way — maintaining appropriate documentation and chain of custody, using correct inflection during interviews, etc. The CFE credential provides recognition of the commitment and determination to learn, understand and live by ACFE standards.

Outside of the work I tend to spend more time on activities that help to calm my relatively busy working life. Family and friends play a significant role in my life and I try to spend as much time with them as possible. I also still like to travel and explore new places and cultures.

Emily Primeaux, CFE, is assistant editor of Fraud Magazine. Her email address is: eprimeaux@ACFE.com.

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