The fastest expanding business in the Indian accounting fraternity revolves around fraud. Fraud is ballooning so fast in corporate India that audit firms cannot keep pace. The forensic practice of KPMG has some 500 people, doubling over the last two years. At rival Ernst & Young, revenues from the fraud investigation business are expected to double this year and the next, after growing at 50 per cent last year.
As the number of frauds is growing, so is their complexity. Says Arpinder Singh, E&Y's Partner for the service: "If five years ago a typical case would be that of a simple kickback paid to a particular vendor, today it is much more complex, involving data theft, intellectual property issues or complicated bribery cases where tracing money movement can be a challenge."
The sensitivity of companies to such frauds is also increasing. After the Satyam Computer scandal, where Chairman B. Ramalinga Raju cooked the books to report fictitious revenues in excess of Rs 7,000 crore, "tolerance for frauds is veering towards zero in performance-driven companies," says Deepankar Sanwalka, Head of KPMG India's Risk and Compliance Group.
This is a big change from the last decade when the focus at most corporates was on revenue expansion with little thought for controls over the risks that come with unbridled growth. At a given point, KPMG is investigating one or two cases of financial statement fraud with the average size of the transgression being about Rs 50 crore. In fact, Sanwalka believes that, if the slowdown had continued, more Satyam-like skeletons would have tumbled out of India Inc.'s cupboard.
A survey of 200 companies in India by KPMG in August this year indicated that weak support for whistle-blowers, regulations with gaping loopholes, and lax board and senior managements were the main reasons behind a spurt in reported incidents of corporate frauds in recent years. Bribery and corruption were seen as an inevitable aspect of doing business in India. And, while supply chain, bribery and corruption continue to be the most common frauds, intellectual property and electronic crime are emerging concerns, the survey found.
Jamshed J. Irani, Director at Tata Sons, the holding company at the Tata group, believes that the key to foiling corporate fraud is a vigilant board rather than regulations. "We have enough laws in the country to deal with any malpractice," he insists, pointing to a new Companies Act that empowers independent directors.
He says the classic case was that of Tata Finance 10 years ago, where the board got involved and the then chief executive Dilip Pendse, was brought to book and jailed. More recently, last year, a case of accounting misrepresentation was reported at a division of TRF, a company with businesses in automotive undergear and material handling in which the Tata Group holds a 34.30 per cent stake. Irani, who chairs the TRF board, declined to discuss the case because investigation is on. But, those who have tracked the developments say TRF was swift in taking action even though, as a Mumbaibased analyst pointed out, "it was not a case of fraud but of wrong calculation of estimates".
The wrong costs and the consequential revenues recorded in the previous years have been reversed in the current year and the previous year by the company.
The figures were to the tune of about Rs 2.4 crore for the year to March 31, 2010, and Rs 13.32 crore in the previous financial year.
Still, about five senior people of a TRF division have been suspended and asked to go on long leave, pending an inquiry. Perhaps a better choice, some would say, than firing the people and losing control over them. To Irani, the importance of an investigation is its deterrent value and not the actual punishment that can follow. If people know that things will get investigated, that in itself would be a big deterrent.
Such a deterrent would have worked in an instance that the E&Y team dealt with recently. Some employees of a company had floated their own firms to divert cash from their employer. The losses bloated to Rs 100 crore before they were caught. If TRF is an instance of a proactive board, at HDFC Asset Management Company it was the stock markets regulator that stepped in to seek corrective action. In June, following a case of alleged front running by Nilesh Kapadia, Assistant Vice President for Equities at HDFC AMC, the Securities and Exchange Board of India or SEBI asked the company to overhaul its internal controls and get an inquiry done by the trustees of HDFC Mutual Fund. SEBI also barred Kapadia from trading activities done on behalf of HDFC AMC.
SEBI investigations found that Kapadia had tipped off an associate, Rajiv Ramniklal Sanghvi, before placing the purchase or sell orders for HDFC AMC. Sanghvi, in turn, traded based on such tips, making substantial gains. In his order, K.M. Abraham, a member of SEBI, directed the fund's trustees "to identify whether (Kapadia) had indulged in similar front running activities on other occasions". The trustees had been given six months for the investigation, which means SEBI should be hearing from the company in December.
And it is not just the private sector. Cut to Navi Mumbai. In recent years, a government-owned petroleum products company, Hindustan Petroleum Corp Ltd or HPCL, had to deal with instances of alleged corruption and abuse of official position by some of its employees.
Results consistently in line with budget
Unclear costs, often accompanied by failure to perform reconciliations
Profi t and loss items based on judgements rather than hard data
Too many manual journals and accruals without automatic adjustment
Unusual fl uctuations in sales or forward purchase orders, particularly at the year-end
Profits not converted into cash
Undue concern about audit visits
December 26, 2010 /Story
December 26, 2010 /Story
Puja Mehra and E. Kumar Sharma
Edition: December 26, 2010
Edition: December 26, 2010