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Please tell us about yourself
Navita Srikant is a B.Com (Hons.) graduate from SRCC (Shri Ram College of Commerce, Delhi), Delhi University, followed by qualifying as Chartered Accountant. Continued to evolve further by completing Certified Internal Auditor and Certified Fraud Examiner Certifications.
In my 20th year where I have gained expertise in domains such as auditing, internal controls, risk management, governance, compliance and anti-fraud, forensic accounting, investigation, corporate intelligence, money laundering, anti-corruption policies and strategies at corporate and country level.
Pure play fraud/security/ethics complaints cases which I have led in management position would run over 50+. These numbers however include time spent in geographies outside India. My investigative experience has enriched by exposure to cases across continents such as Colombia, Brazil in Latin America to Sweden, Switzerland, Spain and other countries in Europe to India, Sri Lanka in Asia and USA.
Besides, my anti-fraud work made me travel to Singapore, Thailand, Dubai, Belgium, Norway, Finland and London.
When and how did you start in anti-fraud/security and forensic functions field?
Early 2000, I had transitioned from external auditing to governance, internal auditing and risk management functions. I was enjoying seeing the organization from internal perspective of processes and procedures and realizing importance of management oversight. I used to present to Audit Committee and it was fascinating to see how the culture varied from organization to organization. For some it was a mere check in the box and some where members questioned if management had repeated control deficiencies..Finally Enron happened…This case was a life changing case for me. I remember reading every detail, every article written on this case. It was intriguing for me and I questioned myself, with best of external auditors, best in class internal audit function and risk management function which was quoted by other corporate what went wrong? Those days, forensic functions were mostly focused on investigation. These were reactive practices waiting for the phone to ring. My study of Enron case convinced that there is a disconnect between governance, compliance, risk management, internal auditing and investigation functions…This is when I presented my case to Head of Forensic department and asked if I can build anti-fraud solutions. I focused heavily on defining methodologies of fraud risk management, ethics and integrity solutions and became a leading trainer on SAS 99 and ISA 240 (fraud standards for external auditors in early 2000). I was also inducted as faculty by IIA Switzerland to teach on Practice Advisory 1210. A2 which also related to sufficient knowledge of fraud indicators for internal auditors.
In parallel, I continued to focus on investigation and arbitration cases. Later on, I was faculty on forensic accounting course organized by ICAI.
How do you define anti-fraud and forensic functions field?
I would recommend to refer definition of occupational fraud which provides you with detailed classification. On Anti-fraud programs and controls, I would recommend reading SAS 99 which provided detailed guidance on what these preventive measures constitute and how these can be audited. Most difficult anti-fraud control to implement and /or audit is “Tone at the top” and failure of which leads to most of the financial statement fraud.
Forensic function would comprise of skill set which includes, investigative, accounting and auditing skills. Forensic accounting involves examination of books and records and preparation of analysis and outcome which is supported with evidence and is suitable in court of law. This is mostly applied in cases of disputes, financial statement fraud and so on. Forensic functions use investigative skills to solve complex cases of cyber crime, business intelligence, professional negligence, ethics violations, employee frauds, business investigations, asset tracing, dispute resolution cases, etc.
Forensic functions are heavily dependent on use of forensic technology tools which are integral to most of the investigations. In addition, such a function also benefits from professional from security / intelligence background.
Which is the most memorable case that you have witnessed in your career? What was remarkable about that case?
Two cases that come to mind. Given that sooner or later transactions do speak, the cases are mostly straightforward. Time consuming or fishing through mammoth transaction is part of our day to day job.. But this case was interesting for me as I was dealing with the Regional Head who had masterminded organization wide fraud at a subsidiary level. However, allegations were against the subsidiary CEO. We had all the evidence to support these allegations but question was how do we get the one whose finger are actually on the CEO’s button and he has left no trace. The only way to get him was if he confesses. He carried lot of weight in the organization and I was warned to be careful. I received life threats in following weeks and finally the day scheduled to interview the Regional Head arrived. My interview lasted 6 hours..A make or break moment and I got him. This profession makes you committed to the cause. You may not be fighting battle on the border but you are fighting for a cause, for the truth..and then you are no longer afraid.
Second case was in Colombia…investigation into allegations of corruption and mismanagement. Rumors were that funds are being siphoned off to projects which are no longer viable due to security concerns. When I came to their offices to investigate, country director asked me to leave as he believed that I will be biased in opinion since our investigative team was engaged by their headquarters. For three days, we were denied access to records and we waited in conference room..Slowly he opened up and I walked up to him and said, “you have to trust me and my professional ethics and I assure of fair investigation.”Country was witnessing civil war and activities of leftist guerrilla army were on peak. One of the project I chose to investigate was in the village of these FARC rebels. Today, if I reflect then may be I would have thought twice before taking a security risk but my investigation couldn’t have been completed if I was not on ground zero to witness reality myself. After all, I had given the Director my word of fair investigation so there was no tracing back steps. This was the most remarkable case in my life which taught me perseverance, compassion yet firmness, objectivity and balance.
What is the scope of anti-fraud and security functions field in India?
Quite good, I must say. Security functions definitely yes. However, anti-fraud or preventive controls may still take some more time to take off and not enjoy as much priority as in western countries. Unless we see stronger enforcement and penalties on failures and non-compliance, anti-fraud investments will not grow much. Look at US, how they are driving FCPA compliance and corporate fear non-compliance due to penalties and corporate integrity agreements.
Both Physical and IT security functions will continue to grow as India will continue to be a leading economic player. As a priority, corporate must get these two basics right: safeguard where you are and who has access to you= simple equation.
Another practice which will have growing significance is intelligence.
What is your estimate of the industry according to you – how many number of people are employed and what could be the combined revenues?
Its yet to receive the status of industry classification, isn’t it! Nevertheless, there should be about 5000 professionals in India…assuming dedicated forensic practices of leading firms, boutiques, private investigators, CA practitioners, corporate security functions, investigative journalists, etc.
What are the career opportunities that you see in this field ?
Like I said, ever growing field. Every case is unique and learning the tricks of trade for money laundering case to cyber crime vary so much that you can never get bored and there will be no dearth of work.
How do one become forensic accountant/security professional – what qualifications,background and qualities you look for?
For Forensic Accountant – must are investigative, accounting and auditing skills. Typically we do look for abilities such as analytic and out of box thinking, perseverance- a real must.
There are certification courses available which can facilitate learning.
Can you quantify the amount of frauds that you have investigated?
Economic losses may be easy but quantifying reputational damage is a challenge.
What is your advise to the students aspiring to become anti-fraud professionals?
Am happy to share my guiding principles which have helped me to make the right choice…Don’t treat it as a profession; Believe in a good cause. Be fair. Treat the subject with professionalism. Maintain your objectivity and independence. Its ok if you got the hypothesis wrong, start all over again! – measure twice cut once.