Sound processes and culture required to combat fraud

Fraud is creating a significant challenge for organisations, and current approaches aren’t working to combat it. COVID-19 has changed the fraud game, creating new opportunities for fraudulent activity that can impact organisations in an already-fraught landscape. A recent CFO Series Lunchtime Live event explored new approaches to combating this all-too-frequent crime.

In general, too many organisations still rely on paper-based processes and spreadsheets to stay on top of their often dated and complex supply chain, invoicing and administration systems. This leaves them susceptible to fraud. However, automating these processes can reduce the risk of fraud impacting their operations.

Fraud sits squarely in the CFO’s remit. It’s the finance team’s job to detect and protect their organisation from internal and external threats. These include accounts payable fraud, invoice forgery, expense fraud, fake expense claims, and multiple submissions, just to name a few.

Andy Rae is the regional director SMB ANZ at SAP Concur, which helps CFOs and business leaders automate their travel, expense and accounts payable processes. He explains why fraud has become a key risk for organisations that have not automated their fraud detection systems.

“Manual and semi-automated processes create multiple points of failure for fraud. Organisations tend to have a travel process in one place, an expense process in another, and an invoice process in yet another, all going through either a paper process or even disparate systems. It’s difficult to see if somebody is potentially trying to defraud the business in one or all those areas. That’s the challenge for business leaders and that’s where automated systems can deliver exceptional value.

“By consolidating these processes into a single platform, businesses can achieve real, actionable insights. These platforms deliver real-time data every time an expense is incurred, a trip is booked or requested, and an invoice comes into the system (whether it’s been processed or not) in a system with associated reports.”

The pandemic game changer

COVID-19 has created additional challenges for CFOs when it comes to fraud. It’s very difficult to get a clear picture on how this is impacting fraud systems, given most people very quickly shifted to working from home. Andy Rae said, “CFOs still need real-time information so they can make business decisions.”

PAE NZ Limited finance director, Cormac Denton, agreed the swift shift to working from home is a significant challenge CFOs face when it comes to fraud.

Cormac has personally experienced some very serious incidences of fraud. In one instance, a fraudster accessed his emails and learned how to impersonate him convincingly. The fraudster used believable invoices and language to direct a colleague to deposit money into the fraudster’s bank account, suggesting they had been watching the email account for weeks. While that company’s processes would not have allowed the impersonator to succeed, another reason the criminal was caught was his accent; the impersonator used a British accent and Cormac is a Kiwi, so the different accent quickly alerted the team. According to Cormac, culture is the differentiating factor when it comes to identifying fraud.

Cormac Denton said, “Our culture means my team members will challenge me when something doesn’t look right. And I ensure that, even if they are wrong, I celebrate the challenge.”

Inside job

External fraud is only one side of the coin. Often, internal fraud is just as damaging.

Andy Rae said, “Expense report padding is the most common type of internal fraud. This involves a staff member being reimbursed for a expense that was not actually related to the business.

“Incorrectly claiming vehicle expenses is another common fraud. These types of fraud are hard to identify and stop. Everything comes down to the right processes. As a business leader, it’s important to invest time looking into the data to find anomalies.”

Overall, panelists agreed that it’s important to identify and fix the weak links in the business when it comes to fraud. Then, it’s important to implement automated systems that flag anomalies every time they occur. Coupling great systems with a process that encourages staff members to say something if they think they have uncovered a fraud is the best way to protect the business from this type of threat, which will only increase in the future.