The development of an investigation process for commercial forensic practitioners in South Africa
Bredenkamp, Daniël Petrus
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The study aims to establish an integrated generic investigation process that could be utilised by Commercial Forensic Practitioners in South Africa. Secondly, it aims to determine which investigation processes are currently being utilised in South African forensics practices. An overview is given of the international utilised processes and a basic framework was developed, presented and tested by means of questionnaires to members of the Institute of Commercial Forensic Practitioners in South Africa. The development of an investigation process for Commercial Forensic Practitioners in South Africa could be utilised by the Institute of Commercial Forensic Practitioners to provide a governance structure for the Institute that would enhance the quality of forensic investigations and contribute to the successful investigation and prosecution of commercial crime in South Africa. To achieve the study objective, an empirical study was conducted among current members of the Institute of Commercial Forensic Practitioners in South Africa through the circulation of questionnaires via their website. These results were interpreted, taking cognisance of international practices identified in the literature review. A formalised investigation process was developed and suggested to the Institute of Commercial Forensic Practitioners. Statisticians were involved during the process of designing the questionnaires, and analysing and interpreting the results. The research dealt with a generic investigation process for Commercial Forensic Practitioners. It also dealt with its implementation and investigative performance in South African practices. In this study, an overview of the investigation process for Commercial Forensic Practitioners in South Africa was discussed. The research also analysed the following: * The time period in which organisations implemented the Commercial Forensic Practitioners Process; * The effect of the Commercial Forensic Practitioners Process on investigative performance; and * The integration of the Commercial Forensic Practitioner's process into the budgeting process. The findings of the study revealed the following: * Each of the phases of the Commercial Forensic Practitioners Process is as important as the others in matters that will be presented before court. * An investigation should only be performed if it can be performed properly and in a manner that provides clarity and value to the engagement and its objectives. For this purpose, a Commercial Forensic Practitioner should only accept an assignment if free of conflicts and any independence issues. It is imperative for Commercial Forensic Practitioners to adequately assess not only their relationship to the client and the particular engagement, but also their relationship to any opposing party. This assessment should be done in the context of all other work of the practice, not only that work that is performed by the particular Commercial Forensic Practitioner and direct colleagues. * The Commercial Forensic Practitioner must design, implement and use a robust client and engagement acceptance process that is documented, standardised and, where relevant, agreed with the client. * The role of a Commercial Forensic Practitioner in an investigation process is, therefore, to gather evidence, interrogate and examine the financial evidence, develop computer applications that help in analysing and presenting the evidence, putting forward all the findings in the form of reports, exhibits and documents, and finally taking part in civil actions or litigation as an expert witness, and testifying to the court and presenting all the evidence obtained through documentation or visual aids. It is therefore of the essence that a Commercial Forensic Practitioner be well versed in financial issues and legal concepts and proceedings. * The study found that the majority of respondents (69.3%) were male, while only 30.7% were female. The majority of Commercial Forensic Practitioners fall within two age categories, namely, 35 to 44 and 45 to 54 years. These age categories fall into the productive stage of a working career in the human life-cycle. It is furthermore inferred that the level of experience is of importance, as the majority of participants were well experienced, mostly with at least ten years‟ experience. * A total of 22.7% of respondents indicated that they do not use a formalised investigation process. The majority of respondents (77.3%) thus make use of a formalised investigation process. * The study found that formalised investigation processes are not implemented for the following reasons: -- Managerial and governance processes within practices were sufficient to address the risks posed (41.2%); -- Commercial Forensic Practitioners do not have a formalised investigation process at their disposal (35.3%); -- Commercial Forensic Practitioners are not aware of a formalised investigation process being utilised in industry that could be used (23.5%); and -- The implementation of a formalised investigation process proved too difficult (23.5%). * The most important reasons for implementing a formalised investigation process included reputational risks and quality control of investigative work. It was notable that the study revealed that the industry does not require practitioners to follow any procedures. * It is noteworthy that practitioners did not regard monitoring and management review of compliance with the provisions of their formalised investigation process as an important requirement. The study revealed that the majority of Commercial Forensic Practitioners would measure compliance as an occasional requirement (33.3%); only 23.3% placed compliance as an agenda item for each monthly management meeting and 16.7% as a quarterly agenda item. * The majority (56.3%) of practitioners recognised that integration of a formalised process with the budgeting process could enhance productivity and financial benefits. * The majority of respondents (88.1%) were of the view that there was an improvement in financial performance and/or productivity after the implementation of the formalised investigation process. * 62% of respondents were of the view that there was a significant improvement in financial performance and productivity since the implementation of the formalised investigation process. This finding is significant, as it proves that a formalised process for Commercial Forensic Practitioners in South Africa can have a positive effect on a practise‟s financial performance. The suggested sub-processes, as described, are accepted by the respondents, namely: * Client acceptance, service considerations, risk management procedures, independence and engagement agreements; * Planning and strategic objectives of an engagement, including documented investigative plan incorporating the relevant disciplines (accounting, law, IT, investigative and risk management skills); * Gathering information and evidence, documenting evidence in an evidence file or system and safeguarding evidence as important; * Interviewing, using best practice interviewing skills, by planning the interview to achieve strategic objectives, recording the interview and using technology; * Analysis and verification of evidence; * Quality management, with all reported findings included in referenced working papers supported by documented physical evidence; and * Reporting on findings in a detailed forensic report, clearly and concisely reflecting on the sequence of events, supported by financial information and documents, in a format that could be used in disciplinary enquiries and/or proceedings in civil and criminal courts. These findings fulfil the objective of the study, which was to establish an integrated generic investigation process that could be utilised by Commercial Forensic Practitioners in South Africa and secondly to determine which investigation processes are currently being utilised in South African forensics practices. It was clarified whether the implementation of a formalised process can lead to an improvement in financial performance and what the result of the integration of a formalised process into a practise‟s budgeting process is. It was established that there is indeed a relationship between the integration of the formalised process into the budgeting process and the improved financial performance of a practise. The findings of this study have significant implications for the management of South African Commercial Forensic Practitioner practices. Based on the study findings, the following general and specific recommendations can be made: * The investigation process for Commercial Forensic Practitioners should be fully integrated with the budgeting process of the practise, as this will ensure improved investigative performance by the business; and * Education and research on the investigation process for Commercial Forensic Practitioners should be conducted by the management of a practice before implementing such a process.