Peers and clients say:
“Steve is as smart and pragmatic as anyone in the business”
"He knows what we need, and he knows what the government demands”
“He’s excellent at making sure he delivers excellent work ahead of schedule”
Steve leads Alvarez & Marsal’s US-based investigations and compliance practice. He specialises in investigating alleged political corruption, money laundering, bank and wire fraud, false claims, and other alleged criminal activity. Steve also counsels clients on their compliance programs, including companies under external monitorship and self-reporting requirements. Steve previously worked as a federal fraud and corruption prosecutor, as in-house counsel and compliance officer at a Fortune 40 technology company, and in private law practice at a multinational law firm.
What inspired you to specialise in investigating financial crimes?
I spent eight years as a federal prosecutor, most of which I spent prosecuting fraud and corruption. I learned that the world is a better place when companies function effectively. Jobs are better, returns to shareholders are better, and there are fewer externalities—like huge losses caused by a few bad actors. When someone commits financial crime, there’s always someone who suffered a financial loss—but often a psychological loss. I like ferreting out where things aren’t working as they should.
In what ways does your past experience as a federal prosecutor enhance your current investigations practice?
My prosecutorial experience matters in at least two ways. First, I understand what matters to the government, which is frankly what most companies are trying to understand. That means that we focus our forensic accounting only on those tasks that are likely to yield valuable evidence. That can be evidence that identifies someone who did something wrong, and it can be evidence of controls failures. We concentrate on what will matter to decisionmakers and advise our clients how to efficiently gather that information. Second, unlike a lot of forensic accountants, my team writes like lawyers. Every work product is clear and concise and draws the reader’s eye to the most important facts. I owe that to my years as a prosecutor, where I always wrote for a lawyer audience—an audience that included trial and appellate judges. I cannot overstate the value of good writing. Our clients hire us to unknot a mystery, not write so confusingly that we create a second one.
What do you consider to be the most important qualities for a successful investigations expert in your field?
To me, the most important thing is being able to piece together disparate pieces of information. I firmly believe that most frauds won’t hold up against a forensic deep dive into corporate transactions. In most companies, there are too many cross-checks, too much data, too many documents to create a fraud that will hang together even when closely examined. So we are experts in financial data and controls. We work using a process that is repeatable, auditable, and defensible. We built that understanding through investigating scores of cases across all kinds of industries, all around the world. That last part matters. Corporate cultures differ considerably around the world.
What do you enjoy most about your work as a forensic accountant and investigations expert?
I like that every case is just a little bit different. I get the chance to learn new companies and new industries on a regular basis. Even within an industry, there are so many different players who fill different roles. I have, for example, conducted investigations at financial institutions and in the extractive industries (like oil and gas, drilling services, and other companies) for decades now. But every company is a little different, and every group of executives and employees is distinct. I also love that we now have so much experience under our belt that we can give the client valuable insights much more quickly.
How do you see your practice developing over the next five years?
We are doing a lot more pure compliance work now, often for companies that are under government scrutiny. DOJ, SEC, and others (like the CFTC and Antitrust Division) are extremely focused on compliance. Regulators and prosecutors now demand that companies regularly test their compliance program. This has driven our clients to pay much closer attention to going beyond figuring out what happened; clients now want to know why it happened and how to prevent it in the future. Those changes have led to a lot more controls analyses and remediation than we did even a few years ago.
What advice would you give to someone considering a career in forensic investigations?
My team is half CPAs and half technologists, with some crossover of accountants who are data experts. I think that mix is critical. So I’d advise someone considering the field to go deep in a critical area: accounting or data analytics. At the same time, though, the best investigators understand both areas and are deeply curious about how data might inform their forensic accounting and visa versa. I’d layer over that, again, the critical importance of good writing.