Frances McLeod

Forensic Risk Alliance

2550 M Street, NW
20037, Washington, USA

Peers and clients say:

"Frances is a top-notch, creative and practical expert"
"It doesn't get better than her"
"An excellent leader, abreast of industry trends"


Frances is a founding partner of FRA. She is a former investment banker and has nearly 30 years of experience advising diverse clients on sanctions, anti-corruption, fraud, internal control, asset tracing, and money laundering issues. She is currently serving as the DOJ-appointed independent compliance monitor in two separate monitorships - Balfour Beatty Communities LLC and FCA US LLC - and was also the DOJ appointed monitor on the recently certified IAV GmbH monitorship. Frances also has extensive experience in addressing complex international data transfer issues in regulatory investigations and cross border litigation and speaks English, German, French and Mandarin Chinese.

What made you set up FRA nearly 25 years ago?

There were three of us who set up FRA, my brother Toby Duthie, our partner Greg Mason and I. I’d been working with Greg on the Swiss banks investigations into dormant Holocaust-era assets. Greg was responsible for the design and implementation of a database of dormant accounts, and I was working on the investigation to identify accounts for capture or loading into the database. My knowledge of how Swiss Banks worked and of the historical context complimented Greg’s technical skills. We eventually used the database to identify 34,000 bank accounts. For me, it was an epiphany about how data analytics could really form the backbone of an investigation. When Greg and I finished working on the project, we decided to start our own business because we thought our methodology had such a broad application across different environments.

What recent developments have you seen in the industry?

From my perspective, I’m very focused on looking at new tech and businesses we can partner with to become more efficient and analyse the myriad types of data out there. We want to do analysis faster, get quicker and relevant results but we also really want to present that information in a compelling way for our clients. We’re frequently working with lawyers – in house and external – to help them tell the story of what happened in an investigation. I’m excited to see things we’ve historically had to complete in a static fashion, be done more dynamically. Ephemeral messaging is also creating a new legal and compliance challenge presenting a dilemma between data retention and monitoring requirements and protecting data privacy. Regulatory demands are growing in this space, but remain vague on the “how”, especially outside the financial sector.

FRA recently invested in its cryptocurrency practice. Why?

The explosive growth of cryptocurrency exchanges, Decentralized Finance (DeFi) platforms, Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs), and non-financial applications of blockchain technology has created complex challenges around sanctions exposure, anti-money laundering (AML) controls, and proactive compliance. Cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology are still very much borderless in nature. Add in differing regulatory requirements across different jurisdictions and the cryptocurrency world becomes very complicated. As regulators and law enforcement agencies worldwide grapple with the ongoing challenges posed by digital currencies, we recognised the importance of staying at the forefront of innovation and ensuring we were equipped with the necessary tools to fight this digital era of financial crime we now find ourselves in.

How is technological innovation revolutionising the practice area at the moment?

We all recognise that AI has the capability to revolutionise the industry. If used correctly, AI technology can produce accurate results faster, saving time and money. In contrast to the consumer market, there is still minimal adoption to date by attorneys and the technology is still very much in the development stages in relation to the investigations industry. Within this decade however, I see AI technology continuing to improve as regulators begin to encourage or expect the use of it especially in multijurisdictional investigations, which almost always require the efficient process and querying of vast amounts of transactional and unstructured data.

What are your top tips to help amplify a more diverse set of voices in the investigations space?

As a mother, who has faced challenges balancing family and work, when setting up FRA, my co-founders and I were deeply committed to providing a supportive environment to allow women to have families if they so choose and feel secure in their professional reputation and career path. As FRA has grown, we recognised the importance of having women at every level of leadership. It is vital to give those at more junior- to mid-levels examples of how their careers can take shape. We are proud to be close to gender parity across our global presence (45 percent women) however, this year’s International Women’s Day theme of “Embracing Equity” challenged us to dig deeper and recognise that we can be doing more. I also champion our firm’s DEI Initiative, which started in response to the killing of George Floyd in 2020. The horrendous crime motivated many in FRA to question our internal policies and positions and acknowledge that there was much more that we could do to live up to our pledge to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion. Since inception, the DEI group has continually made an impact across the business and successes have included coordinating mandatory diversity training and setting up FRA’s employee rngagement working group facilitating diversity dialogues. The sessions and panel discussions create opportunities to discuss a broader range of topics such as ageism, intersectionality, and neurodiversity in a safe and open environment.

What has been a recent career highlight?

Having been deeply involved in all FRA’s compliance monitorship work, I am extremely proud that the team who supported me on the recently certified IAV GmbH monitorship, for which I was the US Department of Justice-appointed independent compliance monitor, won Team of the Year at the Women in Governance, Risk and Compliance Awards 2023. The win recognised the highly advanced technical capabilities and expertise that underpin our core business values, but also how a diverse and supportive group of people can work together to deliver success. I was one of only a handful of women – and one of the few non-lawyers – to have been appointed as a monitor by the US Department of Justice; 70 percent of the senior team – partners and directors – were women, 45 percent of the full team comprised women and 59 percent of project hours were completed by win.