From the President

We’re remote, but we must connect



2020 is officially behind us, but its repercussions will live with us for a long time. Nothing prepared us — professionally or personally — for the pandemic. COVID-19 probably has permanently changed the ways we operate. But we’ve been resilient as we work through tremendous disruptions. We’re fighting the good fight to protect our organizations from fraud despite our limitations.

In October 2020, I had the honor of conducting an ACFE webinar with a group of expert fraud examiners to discuss the challenges and difficulties they and their colleagues are facing. The two-hour discussion flew by with the three speakers from consulting, industry and law enforcement sectors. The discussion was so robust, we decided to expand the session to become this issue’s cover story. Our quarterly Fraud in the Wake of COVID-19 member survey tells us 79% have already observed a significant increase in fraud, and 90% expect to see it increase in the next 12 months. These results were the launching pad for our webinar and cover-article interviews.

The webinar covered a gamut of topics, but the cover story examines the paramount question: How do we stay engaged in our fraud examinations when we must be apart? The three experts lament, as you do, our lack of physical interaction and inability to make connections.

The experts agreed that we, more than ever, must leverage up-to-date technology to perform our jobs because we often can’t be present in person. They stressed the importance of brainstorming with IT departments to improve communication among remote staff members.

The experts feel extra pressure because even basic interviews now rely so much on technology. As one of them said, we must be “overprepared” for the inevitable mishaps and interruptions — especially for organizations operating in multiple countries.

Because our investigation procedures have changed, the experts also stressed that we must closely work with our legal departments to ensure we’re still complying with all laws and regulations. Even a basic component like maintaining evidentiary chain of custody is more difficult in a remote environment. There’s just so much more to scrutinize now.

It’s clear that the fraud risk landscape has changed dramatically since the beginning of the pandemic. However, if we come together and work collaboratively with IT, legal and other groups — internally and externally — then we can share our knowledge and experience to figure out the necessary solutions. Coincidentally, harnessing this collective knowledge and experience is the hallmark of strong fraud risk assessments, which organizations must revisit as they seek to assess and navigate the “next normal” in their fight against fraud.

Just as fraudsters are looking for new ways to steal during the pandemic, we must find novel methods to catch them. Even if we must do that remotely.

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