J.S. Held LLC
445 S. Figueroa Street, Suite 3700
90071, Los Angeles, USA
Jean Chow-Callam is an accomplished forensic accountant with over 25 years of experience in financial investigations covering a broad range of matters, including third party audits and fraud.
Jean Chow-Callam is a Senior Managing Director with J.S. Held and is based in Los Angeles. She brings over 25 years of experience in accounting, financial crimes, compliance and investigations, including matters involving restatements, financial misstatement and internal controls, US SEC 10b-5, fraud, risk assessments, FCPA and US court or DOJ-appointed monitorships. She specialises in complex investigations supporting counsel; reporting to boards, management, special committees, external auditors and regulatory agencies. She has also served as expert witness on behalf of the SEC, and testified in international arbitration. She is a CPA and CFE and is fluent in Chinese.
Describe your career to date.
I started my career in audit at KPMG in Los Angeles and then had the opportunity to go into industry and worked at Fortune 500 companies and financial institutions where I specialised in internal and external financial reporting. These experiences allowed me to address the needs of various stakeholders in a company, such as corporate management, the board of directors, audit committees, internal audit, investors, as well as the day-to-day, on the ground, company operations teams and department personnel. By the time I was recruited to take on the role of controller for a foreign company that was looking to grow and IPO in the US, I had gained valuable insight into operations, internal controls, risk and compliance.
My forensic accounting experience at a Big Four, and later at a boutique consulting firm, opened my eyes to how crisis management issues or disputes are handled by attorneys with varying expertise. By the time I took on a five-year secondment in Asia Pacific to grow and expand the forensic investigations and anti-corruption practices for my previous consulting firm, which taught me the importance of globalisation, coordination and integration, I traversed through the different cultures to help client and counsel resolve challenges so high-standard findings can be shared with the regulators in various jurisdictions.
All these experiences have prepared me well to be a successful forensic accountant at Alvarez & Marsal and to help clients with corporate internal investigations and expert witness work. Working with a diverse and qualified team, and using my years of experience in industry, I am able to conduct effective investigations and other assignments for our clients.
How has your role as a forensic accountant changed since you first started practising?
I have been performing forensic accounting work for over 25 years. In the past, there were not as many training courses or ready-to-use tools available for forensic accounting professionals, so we had to get creative in our approach to investigations, then improvise and summarise our findings in a way that could be easily understood by the various stakeholders. Today, there are many courses that professionals can take to become a forensic accountant and there are also many more tools available to assist forensic accountants, such as big data analytical tools. A good forensic accountant nowadays has the opportunity to problem solve much more quickly and to present the findings in even more useful and innovative way(s) to the client. To me, forensic accounting is an art, not a checklist.
What is the most memorable matter you have ever worked on, and why?
At the height of the short seller attacks on Chinese companies that went IPO in the US market through reverse mergers, I conducted numerous investigations back to back and spent significant time on the ground in China. Because I am fluent in Chinese and have the US experience of performing financial investigations, leading a team of attorneys, forensic accountants and computer forensics professionals was a lot of hard work yet also very rewarding. We had to improvise at client sites as new findings and challenges arose, including around our physical security. It felt great to recognise that my passion in local knowledge is just as important as improvisation and technical investigative skills in an investigation. As investigators, we should always be ready to expect the unexpected.
What steps can companies take to ensure they are agile in the face of increasing compliance requirements?
Having a robust compliance program in place is the key. Most companies nowadays know the importance of investing in corporate governance and compliance, and employees are trained in the company’s policies and procedures. Once policies and procedures have been set up and communicated with the employees, it is important for companies to routinely/periodically test whether the compliance program has been complied with in reality and from there, any holes detected can be remediated and the process updated. This also helps the company with being able to assess the risk/reward quickly with agility when new requirements come in play.
How has covid-19 affected your work and to what extent do you see these effects being long term?
Covid-19 brought challenges we have never faced in the past. Companies have been forced to find ways to continue with day-to-day business, and for the legal/investigations/compliance department, that means performing investigations remotely. Thankfully, making use of big data tools has allowed for more efficiency during these times. During the lockdown, we all adapted to working effectively with virtual meetings. Recognising there is still a difference between conducting investigations live on the ground versus doing investigations remotely, in the long term, I think companies will weigh the risk and reward to determine whether investigation teams will be deployed. There will definitely be a consideration of the balance in reducing costs versus the risk involved, depending on the type of issues.
What advice would you give to younger practitioners, hoping to one day be in your position?
Follow your passion, continue to dedicate yourself to doing good work and ask questions. Do not be afraid of taking on challenges. The day will arrive sooner than you think!