I'm a CFE

Placide Schmidiger, CFE

Head of corporate special investigations at a global logistics company

“I see many similarities between ski jumping and being a CFE,” says Placide Schmidiger, CFE, head of corporate special investigations at a global logistics company in Switzerland. He says that both require immense preparation. “When I ski jump, I must be prepared mentally and physically. I also analyze the particularities of the jumping hill, the wind and snow conditions, the condition of my equipment, and so on.” However, Schmidiger says that no amount of preparation guarantees a successful jump, but practice certainly helps him avoid making mistakes. “The same applies to CFEs,” he says. “The successful outcome of an investigation depends on good preparation, the fieldwork and reporting.”

I grew up in a small town, La Chaux-de-Fonds, in the French part of Switzerland, near Lake Neuchâtel. I played soccer and tennis, and practiced alpine skiing and fencing, but I got hooked on ski jumping because I liked the sensation of flying like a bird. I dreamed of winning an Olympic ski-jumping medal.

As a young kid I was asked to join the Nordic section of my ski club. I started jumping on small hills and rapidly progressed. My success at regional and national competitions qualified me to be on the Swiss National Junior Team. At the age of 16, I qualified for the Ski Jumping Junior World Championships in Canada and at 17, I became a member of the Swiss National Team. I participated in various World Cups around the world. The highlight of the season should’ve been the Olympic Games in Lake Placid, but unfortunately, I got badly injured a couple weeks prior to the event and had to watch it on TV.

I’ve spent most of my career — more than 20 years — in the logistics business. I’ve had many roles including controller, internal auditor and as a country CFO in a global logistics firm. I faced my first FCPA case at the global logistics firm, and during that process I learned about the ACFE.

As the head of corporate special investigations, my priority is to develop clear processes and guidelines, and to maintain an investigation manual that aligns with the prevailing guidelines of the ACFE. In general, my mission is to provide cost-effective, lawful, independent and professional investigations that help protect the company assets and reputation. Further, we assist the management with managing fraud and compliance risks through prevention activities.

I’ve experienced a variety of business processes and human interaction within the business environment, so I’ve always liked the psychological nature of fighting fraud. I like human relationships and understanding why people are tempted to cross moral borders. At the same time, I have a strong sense for justice, morality and integrity.

I’ve learned during my career that successful CFEs should be humble and capable of demonstrating empathy. This helps me stay focused on identifying the facts. Of course, one of the most important skills I’ve learned is to conduct effective witness interviews by communicating respectfully in a true and fair manner. I believe that interviewing witnesses is as much an art as it is a science.

Before I earned my CFE credential, I was tasked to do investigation work as an internal auditor. I wasn’t trained to do that part of the job, and so my lack of fraud-related knowledge led to unfortunate mistakes and unnecessary stress — all of which could’ve been avoided by taking CFE training and courses. If I have one regret, it’s not taking and passing the CFE Exam 20 years sooner!

The biggest mistake first-time fraud fighters can make is to draw rapid conclusions. This job requires strong analytical skills and patience — any investigative case needs to be carefully prepared. Be balanced and put your ego away, because fraudsters are usually smart and will try to find any way to hide and disguise their crimes. Look at the small details, and be critical of your own interpretation. We’re all humans who are driven by basic instincts, so be aware that people not only have different mindsets, but also different values that might not align with yours.

My greatest achievement is my family. My wife and I have three sons, and we all enjoy life and pursue our talents. My job requires a lot of travel, so I’m blessed to have a wonderful wife who understands the demands and handles everything at home.

My personal motto is inspired by ethnologist and explorer Paul-Émile Victor: “The only adventure that is doomed from the start is the one we do not attempt.”

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