Hi-tech hooks fishing for fraudsters

Chartered accountants are tackling an old problem with modern methods
Fraud is becoming such an obsession with accountants that barely a few weeks go by without some initiative in this area. But, to judge from the annual report of the Institute of Chartered Accountants' technical directorate published today, next year will see even more activity.

The faculty's plans include the development and promotion of guidelines for directors and management on best business practice in dealing with fraud risks; disseminate, via a roadshow, practical guidance on typical fraud risks; build on the results of a survey identifying practical problems in detecting and dealing with fraud; work with the institute's training department to put increased emphasis on fraud risk awareness on the examination syllabus, and to set up an advisory panel to help co-ordinate actions to combat fraud and advise on public policy.

Graham Ward, the directorate's chairman, says: "We're definitely trying to help our members in terms of the detection of fraud if they are in practice and, if they are in business, in terms of prevention and detection. We're looking to provide practical guidance."

A key part of this will be encouraging members of the profession to share their experience through the medium of "infamous frauds and how I found them", he adds, pointing out that the real aim is to expose the problem as much as possible.

Given this enthusiasm to focus on a practice that has often left accountants as bamboozled as the layman, it is perhaps not surprising that another key objective outlined in the wide-ranging paper to be presented to the institute's council today is promoting greater understanding of risk management.

Since this field is often tied up with information technology, the institute's IT faculty is publishing a number of pieces of guidance. But mindful of the accounting difficulties, not to mention the potential losses, associated with them, the technical department is planning to look especially closely at derivatives. The subject is becoming so complex that not just banks but also accounting firms - including his own organisation, Price Waterhouse - are hiring people with PhDs in mathematics to advise on such instruments, says Mr Ward.

In fact, though, he insists that the body will examine the full range of causes of risk - from companies buying raw materials before the price has been set to environmental liabilities. With technology developing ever faster, current depreciation policies for certain items of plant and machinery may not be realistic, he suggests