Peers and clients say:
“Ben is a very efficient project planner”
"He delivers comprehensive reports which add value to his practice”
"He is very easy to get on with”
Ben Johnson leads the forensic investigation team for BRG in EMEA. He has over 20 years’ experience as a forensic accountant, focusing on fraud, accounting malpractice and anti-bribery and corruption issues. In the course of his career Ben has worked on some of the largest and most-complex investigations and disputes globally. He is an experienced testifying expert having provided expert evidence in criminal proceedings and international arbitration in relation to fraud and corruption issues.
How has forensic accountancy changed since you started practising?
As the forensic accounting market has expanded and matured it has become more specialised. When I started in the late 90s, it was common for forensic accountants to do a bit of everything; valuations, quantum and damages, fraud and investigations. Now senior professionals are more focussed in their areas of specialism.
The exponential increase in the volume of data in disputes and investigations has also been a huge change. When I started out, most review was still done by flicking through lever arch files, which is a world away from the technological solutions we employ today!
What are the most significant challenges forensic accountants currently face in international investigations?
The coronavirus pandemic has meant that practitioners have had to think creatively in carrying out international investigations. On-site investigations have often not been possible meaning remote collection and review has been required which must be properly thought through to ensure results are not compromised.
Beyond that, efficiently dealing with the ever-increasing volumes of data is a challenge and from an international perspective, making sure data privacy legislation is complied with throughout the investigation.
To what extent have you noticed an uptick in fraud and corruption investigations following the coronavirus pandemic?
There has been a noticeable increase in certain types of consumer-targeted fraud in the pandemic. For example, the increase in home working and use of delivery services has seen a huge increase in phishing scams purporting to be from delivery companies. More seriously, fraudsters have looked to take advantage of security gaps created by more distributed systems with home working. Push payment frauds may be more successful in remote working environments where colleagues are not together to easily question potentially suspicious requests. The home working model can create opportunities for employees to carry out more traditional frauds like fake supplier fraud due to weaknesses in internal controls as a result of distributed systems.
What challenges is cyber fraud posing to your clients and what are the best ways of minimising frequently encountered areas of risk?
The risk of cyber fraud has increased significantly in recent years as fraudsters and criminals have developed increasingly sophisticated techniques to defraud individuals and companies. Often, the vulnerability in company systems that enables cyber fraud is down to old fashioned human fallibility. Properly targeted and up to date training for staff across an organisation is vital to maintaining strong cyber security and minimising risk.
To what extent are you seeing cryptocurrency fraud already becoming a core part of your practice?
Cryptocurrency is an increasingly important factor in all areas of forensic work. Fraudsters and criminals enjoy the benefits of lax standards of client identification checks in the cyber realm. As some currencies become more established, I expect to see further activity in this space until proper regulation is possible.
As deputy chairman of the Academy of Experts, what steps do you and the organisation take to actively promote objective standards among expert witnesses?
The Academy provides training for experts and guidance on topical issues to ensure members are up to date with the latest requirements and promotes standards through publications such as the model expert’s declaration, engagement terms and expert report template. Further, the academy vets all members through references and via work product.
What advantages accompany employee diversity initiatives, and what steps can expert firms take to improve recruitment and retention in this area?
This is an important issues for all businesses, both recruiting a diverse spectrum of individuals and ensuring all have the right environment to progress their careers, with real diversity ensuring a broad spectrum of thinking and approach to problem solving delivering the best end work product. At BRG we are working on improving diversity by ensuring our recruitment processes covers a wide variety of backgrounds and by ensuring that all staff feel they have a strong and supported career path.
In your opinion, how might younger experts move into a testifying role?
This is a real challenge, getting a testifying role when you have not actually testified before can be something of a catch-22 situation. Firms must ensure staff build the skills necessary to perform a testifying role and look for opportunities for less experienced staff to act as experts in their own name. One way to do this, which requires investment from firms and buy-in from clients, is for budding experts to take on an expert mandate for a smaller and less complex matter, supported by a senior expert.