I'm a CFE

Barry Tong, CFE

National leader, Forensic and Investigation Services (FIS) at Grant Thornton China and president of ACFE’s Hong Kong Chapter

Barry Tong, CFE, wanted to be an accountant ever since he was in secondary school, but it wasn’t until he joined a Big Four firm’s insolvency and restructuring department that he became interested in fighting fraud. Now, Tong spearheads fraud investigations as Grant Thornton China’s national leader of Forensic and Investigation Services (FIS) based in Hong Kong.

I was born in Hangzhou, China, but my family moved to Hong Kong when I was 5 years old, so I was raised and educated there. I was active in sports growing up and spent most of my time playing football (soccer) and badminton with my friends.

I’ve dreamed of becoming an accountant since the fourth form in secondary school (the equivalent of 10th grade in the U.S.). As I had wished when I was in school, I got to start my career as an auditor at a Big Four firm after graduating from the University of Hong Kong. But I didn’t become passionate about fighting fraud until I was seconded (a job rotation) to the firm’s insolvency and restructuring department in 1998. In that position, I discovered a number of forensic and investigation issues in the insolvency cases I worked on. I subsequently joined Grant Thornton in 2002.

Currently, I’m the national leader of FIS at Grant Thornton China, and I’m based in Hong Kong. I’ve also been the president of the ACFE’s Hong Kong Chapter since 2018. At Grant Thornton, I manage fraud investigations by leading and supporting engagements, which usually involve cases of misappropriation of funds and financial statement frauds.

To complete a fraud investigation, I follow a six-step procedure that includes reviewing documents, conducting interviews, preparing independent background searches, sending confirmations, conducting internal control reviews, as well as conducting information technology (IT) forensics examinations. Among the steps I’ve mentioned, IT forensics has become extremely important in recent years since most of the transactions nowadays are conducted via emails, instant messaging apps — such as WhatsApp, WeChat, Line — and various online platforms.

Having been involved in a number of forensic investigations throughout my career, I’ve found that interviewing and data analysis skills are fundamental for investigators. Every detail counts. Apart from investigation skills, I’ve also learned that managing external stakeholders’ expectations and building good relationships with subordinates to work well together as a team greatly improve the quality and efficiency of work. After all, investigations can’t be successful without teamwork.

Around five or six years ago, I conducted an investigation on behalf of a Hong Kong-listed company with operations in mainland China. I was scheduled for a site visit to the mainland tax office for a face-to-face interview with a tax official. Yet, without any reason, the client suggested that the interview take place at my hotel instead of the tax office.

Being the president of the Hong Kong Chapter of the ACFE since 2018 is no doubt my greatest achievement. During my time as president, the Hong Kong Chapter has greatly increased its membership to more than 1,000 members.

I accepted the client’s suggestion and checked the interviewee’s relevant identity documents during our meeting. Everything looked fine. However, the following day, I went to the tax office and found out that the tax official with the name and title of the person I had supposedly interviewed the day before was a completely different person than the one I had met. It turned out the company was trying to conceal certain information from me. This experience taught me an important lesson: to always verify information in multiple ways and never rely on any one source.

Being the president of the Hong Kong Chapter of the ACFE since 2018 is no doubt my greatest achievement. During my time as president, the Hong Kong Chapter has greatly increased its membership to more than 1,000 members.

In 2004 or 2005, my former colleague and I were at a cocktail party where we met a director of the ACFE Hong Kong Chapter. The director introduced us to the ACFE and explained how it’s the largest fraud-fighting organization in the world. After learning this, my colleague and I applied to become ACFE members. Given our extensive investigation experience, we became Certified Fraud Examiners (CFEs) in 2005. With the CFE credential, I have gained not only specialized knowledge but also a reputation and title that are well known and well respected by others.

“Live to learn” is my personal motto and is the first piece of advice I give to those starting out in the fraud-fighting field. Continually learning helps us expand our knowledge and boost our confidence. I also suggest that investigators be curious and always patient.

Outside of work, I’m a sports person. Running, badminton and football are my favorites. My son and I share the same hobbies, and in February 2019, we got to attend our first overseas football game together in the United Kingdom between Manchester City FC and Chelsea FC. This was a crazy experience for us as Manchester City FC won the game with a score of 6 to 0. We were very happy as Manchester City superfans!

Jennifer Liebman is assistant editor of Fraud Magazine. Contact her at JLiebman@ACFE.com.