Peers and clients say:
“He is incredibly smart”
“Bernard is excellent at what he does”
"He can communicate technical issues in an understandable manner - that is worth its weight in gold"
Bernard Woolfley is a senior managing director at Ankura with over 25 years of experience as a forensic accountant. He investigates various types of fraud and accounting improprieties for both public and private companies across multiple business sectors. Over the years, Bernard has led numerous consulting engagements focused on accounting and white-collar issues related to fraud, financial irregularities, violations of anti-corruption statutes, money laundering, self-dealing and securities.
What attracted you to a career in forensic accounting and investigations?
Like many forensic accountants, I started my career as an auditor. While I enjoyed that work, I learned over time that my real interests were more in performing investigations surrounding things that went wrong within a company’s operations. This type of work involved a more inquisitive mindset and provided me with the chance to really expand my thinking, as every case was unique and required me to know not only the client’s business, but also the larger business environment through which financial transactions were conducted. Over 25 years later, I still enjoy learning about new industries and investigating new and unique frauds.
What do clients look for in an effective forensic accountant?
Clients want someone who can help them distil large amounts of accounting data into something that is useful and provides them with the evidence needed to advance their investigation. They also want someone who will listen to them and who can develop a set of procedures that can seamlessly merge into the overall work plan in a way that adds the most value for the end client. And, in many cases, they’re looking for an accountant who can explain how the business works (from an accounting perspective) and how to adjust the company’s processes or controls so that past problems won’t repeat themselves.
What challenges has the shift to remote working presented from a forensic accounting standpoint?
Like a lot of professionals, forensic accounting professionals have had to adjust our practices and processes to account for the various challenges that are inherent to remote investigations. While we always had to be organised in our work, that trait becomes even more important in a virtual setting. We also have to be more flexible in a remote working environment and know how to address different issues in multiple ways and, perhaps, without all the documents or resources that we would normally have had if we were on-site. While I’ve been excited with what we’ve been able to do remotely, there are still times when being face-to-face is necessary, and a good forensic accountant will know how to balance these needs.
What new types of fraud have you seen emerge recently? How are you ensuring that you and your clients are well-equipped to tackle the forensic challenges they pose?
One of the challenges in this type of work is that while the end goal of most fraudsters is the same, the manner and means for achieving those goals have become more complex over time. Advancements in technology have given those who commit fraud a lot more ways to conceal their activity and to hide their ill-gotten gains. To effectively investigate these frauds, forensic accountants at my firm have had to learn more about these technologies and, as our clients often look to us to help stop these frauds from happening again, we have had to develop new processes and procedures to detect and prevent these frauds.
Where, in your opinion, does the future of forensic accountancy lie?
The amount of business and accounting data available to investigators continues to increase every year. To be effective, forensic accountants will need to harness that ever-growing pool of data in a way that allows them to quickly distil the information into reports or analyses that add value to the investigative efforts. They’ll also need to help companies improve their controls and processes to make sure that they are keeping up with or staying ahead of the technological tools used by fraudsters.
As a senior managing director at Ankura, what are your main priorities for the firm’s development in the next couple of years?
While we have a strong global base of practitioners, we are always looking to expand our capabilities, both here in the US and internationally. We’ve made good investments in the last few years, but are still looking for additional personnel in targeted locations.
How does Ankura distinguish itself from the competition in the market?
One of the phrases that anchor many of our marketing documents is “Collaboration Drives Results”. While all firms talk about collaboration and working across practice lines, I believe that Ankura has really found a way to create an environment where this actually happens on a daily basis. This approach allows us to create teams that better serve our clients’ needs and to present a single “one firm” concept that we think adds value for our clients and increases the efficiency of the projects that we work on.
What advice would you give to someone starting out in forensic accountancy?
While you obviously have to have the requisite technical skills, I really think that the folks who do well in this field are those who bring a high level of intellectual curiosity to their work. Having that trait helps forensic accountants learn how companies (and their accounting groups) work and how those who commit fraud operate. I also think that having an interest in the law and its processes can help, as much of our work takes place within a litigation environment.