From the President

Refusing to retreat into the dark

The motto for the 31st Annual ACFE Global Fraud Conference June 21-26 in Boston is “Light the Way.” Howard Wilkinson had to keep increasing the size and intensity of his light to near-blinding brightness to prod Danske Bank and its regulators to investigate the frauds that were occurring under their noses. This issue’s cover story on Howard illustrates just how difficult it can be for whistleblowers to get people to see frauds happening right in front of them.

Howard, who’ll receive the ACFE’s Cliff Robertson Sentinel Award in person at the upcoming conference, was responsible for the financial markets operations at Danske Bank’s Baltic branches. Armed with professional skepticism, he discovered that companies and persons, with which the bank had little-to-no relationship, were mysteriously depositing money. He gave this information to his superiors, but they did nothing. Thankfully, he didn’t give up — he kept digging. His diligence paid off when he uncovered a $230 billion money laundering scheme.

Howard’s light wasn’t a mere signal from a flare gun far on the horizon. He was a bright spotlight that shone straight into the eyes of the bank executives. And even though they tried to turn their heads, Howard kept pushing and showed them that what they were doing was wrong.

All countries need strong whistleblower laws and reporting mechanisms to encourage people to report fraud and to protect those like Howard who do come forward. Too often, tips to governments and organizations seem to disappear into a black hole, and they don’t take any action.

The ACFE’s Report to the Nations consistently shows the value of tips and hotlines. Losses are smaller at organizations with hotlines than those without. As Howard puts it, “Without a strong system to encourage reporting it is difficult to detect breakdowns in internal controls.”

A hotline is a great tool, but a strong corporate ethos must be in place to make it effective. If those employees on the front lines don’t believe their organizations are acting on their valid complaints, then hotline tips will dry up, and the likelihood of finding fraud becomes faint and dim. The light begins to fade.

Howard didn’t just share his findings once and then go away. His tenacity in refusing to just turn and walk away into the dark is why we’re proud to honor him with such a distinguished award.

Bruce Dorris, J.D., CFE, CPA, is president and CEO of the ACFE. Reach him at: